Stephanie Cooke

Awards Season will feel the “Fury”

October 27th, 2014 at 4:51 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

CLICK HERE to watch the trailer for the film FURY.

Fury opened last week but had such buzz — I had to check it out.  And I can see why it does!

The film’s namesake Fury — is the name of a World War II tank and the film tells the story of her crew battling Nazi forces near the end of the war.  This tank and crew has been in service since Africa three years before. Nearly every body in the tank, of course has a war name.   They consist of “Wardaddy” played by Brad Pitt, “Bible” played by Shia Lebeuff, “Gordo” played by Michael Pena, John Bernthall is Grady, and Norman — the new arrival and should-have-been-clerk-typist-now-a-gunner played by Logan Lerman.
They roll through battles and into country side and cities alike, and as they do, we learn what makes the tank tick, it’s limitations and the crews.
The middle of the film is among some of the tense and most true character development I’ve seen in a war film.  They take a break in a German city and Wardaddy takes a bath, enjoys the company of a lady and her cooking… and teaches a few lessons along the way… But this film is as brutal as they come. It’s practically a horror movie.  The realities of war will make you flinch — as they should.  The depiction of the aftermath of surviving a mean battle… makes you feel like you were there.

Brad Pitt as the Colonel is absolutely perfect.  His tension and build, softness and brutality are amazing to watch.  He reminds me a bit of the old school actors in a film that could have been made fifty years ago.  LeBeouf and Pena are stellar as well, and the green Norman played by Lerman gives just the thing we needed to see to make us understand where all these soldiers came from to get to where they are.  Award season will surely feel this FURY.  David Ayers directs with a steady and grim hand.  Nominations are coming for this director and Pitt for sure.


Rated R for strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language throughout.

Alive Inside documentary shows at the NARO

October 20th, 2014 at 3:31 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

CLICK HERE to watch the trailer for Alive Inside.

That’s right we are lucky that the Tidewater Arts Outreach is bringing this documentary to the NARO this Wednesday night for a special showing.  And I am lucky to have gotten to see it in advance so I could tell you about it.

Alive Inside: the Story of Music and Memory is an award-winning documentary that literally feels like a medical magic show.  As the film points out – five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia — many of them alone in nursing homes.

Over three years filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett follows social worker Dan Cohen capturing on camera the magic that seems to happen when music from a patient’s life is introduced to them via iPods and earphones..

We watch as songs from a patient’s past awaken memories and emotions that have been sleeping in the recesses of their minds for years, decades for some of them. Patients who are withdrawn, never speak or recognize anyone — suddenly — with earphones and a song from their past — look up and have a completely lucid conversation — relaying memories, singing every word of the song.  The film is shot so well.  As a good documentary should, it let’s the people being film breath in their space and cuts together the right scenes at the right times, intermixing memory-esque scenes from the past jarred free by the music we hear and see them react to at the same time.

Is this the answer, the cure? Probably not. Could it lead to something new in the industry and how we treat these patients? Hopefully.

It won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival this year, and I can see why.  It’s heart breaking and heart warming all at once.  It’s a commentary on dementia and Alzheimer’s and how we treat it.  If this is something close to you (and even if it’s not),  you’ll want to consider making time to see this remarkable film.


Alive Inside: The Story of Music and Memory
Special Showing in partnership with Tidewater Arts Outreach
Wednesday Night, October 22nd at 7:15
NARO Cinema – Norfolk
For Tickets & Information, Visit

Showing will also include a healthcare panel on arts programs like this in Hampton Roads.


October 20th, 2014 at 3:21 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

CLICK HERE to watch the trailer for The Judge.

The Judge is another story of a scattered dysfunctional family brought together thanks to a death and the remaining members forced to deal with each other again.  The difference between This Is Where I Leave You — which we talked about a few weeks ago–  and The Judge is that there’s very little comedy and instead a lot of legal drama.

Robert Downey, Jr. stars as Hank, the son who left the small town and his family behind to become a big city lawyer. When his mother dies, he comes home to face the ghosts that have been chasing him in his difficult relationship with his father Judge Palmer (Robert Duvall).  Also in play are the other ghosts chasing Hank —the high school accident that ended the promising baseball career of Hank’s brother Glen (Vincent D’onofrio), the disability of his little brother Dale (jeremy Strong), and his high school girlfriend (Vera Farmiga).

But it’s really all about the father-son relationship.  Ultimately the Judge has to allow his son to defend him with the help of another local lawyer not up to the task (played by Dax Shepard) and against a great local lawyer — played by Billy Bob Thornton.

The screenplay is by Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque and it has so much crammed in you can barely keep it straight. It’s directed (a bit self-indulgently for me) by David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers, Change Up and Shanghai Knights).

The acting is what’s worth seeing here.  I really enjoy Downey, Jr. so much better in real, challenging acting like we see in this film as opposed to donning the sarcasm and superhero suits (although he is what made me love Iron Man).  But Robert Duvall’s complete submission and commitment to this role was exceptional.  As a senior facing the loss of his love, his career, and fighting for his life  — he gives a spectacular performance.

It’s too long and there’s too much going on, but you have to be The Judge.

I couldn’t give it FOUR, and THREE seemed unfair to the amazing acting going on here.


Rated R for language including some sexual references. 

Gone Girl stays in theaters

October 20th, 2014 at 3:14 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

CLICK HERE to watch the trailer for Gone Girl.
Gone Girl is the latest thriller from Oscar-nominated (Social Network, Curious Case of Benjamin Button)/Emmy-winning (House of Cards) director David Fincher.   It’s a love story gone wrong — a dysfunctional marriage of the highest caliber.

As things unfold we also get the back story of Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy (Rosamund Pike, Pride & Prejudice; Jack Reacher)– how they met, Amy’s childhood as the inspiration of her mother’s “Amazing Amy” children’s books, and their move  from New York to the heartland to take care of Nick’s ailing mother. Meanwhile back in the present — police are all over the evidence in Amy’s disappearance, the media is going crazy and with all of that going on — it doesn’t take long for suspicions to turn to Nick.  His own lies start to reveal themselves and paint him as a suspect to Detective Boney, played by Kim Dickens (Footloose, The Blind Side).

Nick and the in-laws turn to the media for help, which backfires on Nick. He becomes — as one news host said — “the most hated man in America”.  Desperate to prove he didn’t do anything, and on the advice of his sister Margo (Carrie Coon), he seeks the help of a star defense attorney named Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry) and starts an investigation of his own.  He starts with a visit to old boyfriends of Amy’s — including Desi, played by Neil Patrick Harris.

As the clues to what happened begin to materialize, twists and turns keep coming. We’re getting the narrative from Nick at some points, and from Amy at others.  I’m not giving away the twists, but my mouth was hanging open on some of the turns the film takes.  There are apparently no surprises here if you happened to have read the novel (six million hard copies were sold before paperback!), because Flynn — who adapted it for the screen — stayed meticulously true to the novel, and, in my opinion, to a fault.  Flynn appears to me to have been uninterested in sacrificing parts of the book for the good of the film.

Affleck and Pike have great turns at their characters, but surprisingly to me — Tyler Perry had the performance of the film.  His understated short turn on camera was just what was needed.

Fincher with his dark and moody structure is gripping for 2 hours of the film, but it’s nearly two and a half hours long.  That’s about 20 minutes too long for my taste.  It could have — and should have — ended a bit earlier.

Nevertheless, Gone Girl will certainly be staying in the hunt for award nominations later this year — and given the numbers at the box office… it should be staying in the top ten for awhile.


Rated R for a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, and language.

The Boxtrolls: EGGS-alent family fun

October 20th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by under Uncategorized

CLICK HERE to watch the trailer for The Boxtrolls.

The Boxtrolls is a stop-motion animation family adventure from the creators of “Coraline” and “ParaNorman”.  Both of which I thoroughly enjoyed…. Can this one stack up?

The Boxtrolls themselves are a quirky, weird group of creatures living in a world of their own creation located under the streets of a Charles Dickens-esque town called Cheesebridge.  The leaders are driven by their love of cheese!  And who doesn’t love cheese!?

The Boxtrolls are a mischievous lot who clearly do have a heart — raising an orphaned boy they named Eggs (voiced by Isaac Hempstead-Wright).  In fact, all of them are named for the image or word on the garbage box they wear for clothing.  So Eggs — is wearing… an old egg box!

Of course all family movies like this have to have a bad guy — and the villain here is none other than Archibakld Snatcher — voiced by the Academy Award-winning actor Ben Kingsley.  His end game is to be one of the leaders of Cheesebridge and to do that, he must rid the town of the theiving Boxtrolls.

Enter Winnie (Voiced by Elle Fanning). She’s the priviledged daughter of one of the white-hatted leaders of Cheesebridge.  After she discovers that Eggs is living among the Boxtrolls and Mr. Snatcher’s plan, Winnie hatches a plan of her own that’s sure to save everyone (and the cheese).

It begins with a grand ball that unravels into an action/adventure of the grandest scale. It’s a fantastic watching the dancing at the ball and the crazy chase antics — realizing this is all STOP-MOTION ANIMATION!!!   This is movements done by hand in fractions of milimeters, strung together to create these scenes.  The attention to detail is just so far above par it’s crazy.

Kingsley is superb.  His dastardly voicing of Mr. Snatcher brings the character to life in a big way!  But the star of the movie is the animation coupled with the art direction. Directed by Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi, The Boxtrolls delight and scare, tickle your funny bone and warm your heart.   The importance of family is front and center but underhandedly presented — which is perfectly on point.  The Boxtrolls is EGGS-alent family fun.


Rated PG for action, some peril and mild rude humor.

This Is Where I Leave You leaves much to be desired in a film

October 20th, 2014 at 2:34 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

CLICK HERE to watch the trailer for This is Where I Leave You.

Based on the best-selling novel by Jonathan Tropper, This Is Where I Leave You is a drama/comedy with an all-star cast that seems ready for box office gold. The adult children of this dysfunctional (somewhat Jewish) family come together to bury their atheist father. ..Let the drama and hilarity begin!

Tina Fey is the not-so-happily married sister Wendy.  Judd (Jason Bateman) is the middle brother who found out his wife is cheating on him just before heading to the funeral.  Cory Stoll plays Paul, the brother who runs the family business.  And Adam Driver is Phillip, the baby of the family who still — despite being an adult — hasn’t really grown up yet.  I cannot forget to mention that Jane Fonda plays their mother Hillary – a psychologist who has shared all of their childhood secrets and her best-selling how-to books.  Imagine the surprise when the siblings learn their atheist father’s last wish is for them all to observe the Jewish tradition and sit Shiva.

This Is Where I Leave You is directed by Shawn Levy.  We know him from the Night at the Museum series fame and — then two polar opposites: Date Night — which was great — and The Internship — which was NOT.  The best thing about This Is Where I Leave You is the cast, which works sometimes and sometimes doesn’t.  Tina Fey’s and Justin Bateman’s characters are clearly the best defined, and the actors do a good job with them.  Bateman and Fey really click in their scenes together.

Jane Fonda lobbied for this role and the Oscar-winner even called for an audition.  I didn’t read the book, but I have to believe that the character in the book had to have been better written than the film version of Hillary.  She’s mostly relegated to sitcom-ish lines and, while she delivers for the most part, there are poorly written scenes that she seems to struggle through.

The biggest problem I had was that there are so many storylines running around it just becomes a bit of a mess, before finally working itself out.  It almost feels more like a first draft of a script than a final one.  The novelist Tropper adapted the book for the screen.  His first try at a screenplay.  And for me — it shows.

This Is Where I Leave You is somewhat entertaining while at the same time a bit boring.  I checked the time three times during the film — a film I was really looking forward to seeing.  Sometimes books are better left that way.


Rated R for language, sexual content and some drug use.

No Good Deed not very good

October 20th, 2014 at 2:20 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

CLICK HERE to watch the trailer for No Good Deed.

No Good Deed has SO much potential.  In fact, I mentioned it in the fall movie preview we did on Labor Day. With the Academy Award nominated acting talents on Taraji P. Henson and Idris Elba — I was really looking forward to this one.

Elba plays Collin — a criminal serving time for manslaughter and suspected of killing five other women.  He escapes and goes looking for the girlfriend he hasn’t heard from while he’s been serving time the last five years. They have a conversation and a little more –that I won’t give away — and before you know it, he is crashing a stolen vehicle on a stormy, rainy night in the Atlanta suberbs.

Meanwhile — Terri (Henson’s character) — a former domestic violence prosecutor turned stay-at-home mom is alone with the kids for the weekend while her husband is on a golf weekend.  She is busy feeding and getting them settled and expecting her friend Meg (Leslie Bibb) for girl’s night. Ultimately she lets him in to wait for a tow truck and things go wrong almost immediately.

Surprisingly, Terri isn’t sensing many warning signs, and the ones she does pick up on she tends to ignore until it’s too late.  Her friend Meg is onto him and that’s not a good thing for her.

Elba uses much of his talent to conjure up this eerie sociopath.  He does a pretty good job despite a very lame script.  His southern accent drifts in and out though and that can be distracting.  Henson holds our attention and makes us very angry when she doesn’t do the things we feel she should be doing — again scripting problems.

Some things really made it feel more like a made-for-TV movie than a major box office thriller with starpower like Henson and Elba — a branch through the window at just the right moment among them. Sam Miller directs — he directed Elba in some episodes of the British TV series Luther.

SONY/ScreenGems canceled press screenings of No Good Deed at the last minute in advance of the release — they said to prevent the exposure of a major plot twist at the end of the film.  Not even the twist saved it for me.  On a sheerly entertaining level — I would give it a few more points, but despite the fact that it made me jump once, this film is a real waste of talent to me.


Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, menace, terror, and for language.

Fall Movies ahead!

September 26th, 2014 at 4:35 pm by under Uncategorized

My most dreaded time of year is January-February.  Hardly any films are released and usually I’m not dying to see them if they are.  But FALL!!!!  Fall is when we get the good ones!  Most films nominated for fancy awards are released in the fall.
Plus – we are looking for date nights… and family time… and fall 2014 really has some stuff for us to put on our must see movies list.  Starting with September.

Skeleton Twins – Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader star as an estranged brother and sister back together after he tries to commit suicide. Luke Wilson and Ty Burrell also star in this awesome cast. It’s a dark DRAMEDY — but it did garner a Best Screenplay win at the Sundance Film Festival.  That means it’s at the top of my list.

This is Where I Leave You – More sibling movie fun – and SNL alum love with Tina Fey playing the sister to Jason Bateman, Adam Driver, and Corey Stoll’s characters — all brought back together by their father’s funeral.  Jane Fonda plays their mother.  It’s based on the 2009 novel by Jonathan Tropper.

More films to add to your list —
No Good Deed –stars Taraji P Henson and Idris Elba… This role is a far cry from his last role — as Nelson Mandela in that BIO-PIC.  He plays an escaped convict who terrorizes a wife and mother when he breaks into her home.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: THEM  — Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy star in a film that shows both sides of the end of a marriage.

Jimi: All is by My Side — Jimi Hendrix BIO-PIC … John Ridley wrote and directed …. took some heat for hiring OutKast frontman Andre Benjamin -AKA Andre 3000 — because of his lack of much acting experience.  I’m hip to see this and what they made together.

The Box Trolls – if you’re a fan of STOP-MOTION animation maybe this one is for you. It comes from the makers of Coraline and ParaNorman.  And I like both of those.  Features voices of Ben Kingsley and Elle Fanning.

And then we have October…

Gone Girl - Directed by David Fincher (Fight Club, Social Network).  He actually hired Gillian Flynn — who wrote the novel it’s based on– to write the screenplay (her first ever screenplay).  Ben Affleck stars in this murder mystery as the husband of a woman gone missing on their fifth anniversary.   Also stars Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day – Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner star as the parents in this movie version of a the beloved 1972 children’s book by Judith Viorst.  The 11-year-old title character is played by newcomer Ed Oxenbould.  As Alexander says — Sometimes life just gives you a wad of gum in your hair.  Can’t wait to see this one.

More films to add to your list in October—
Annabelle — spin off from my favorite scary from last year… It’s a pre-quel to The Conjuring.
The Judge — Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duvall star in a legal drama about a father and son conflict.
Fury — WWII tank movie from Director David Ayer stars Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Jon Bernthal, and Michael Peña
St. Vincent — Bill Murray plays a old man in Brooklyn who bonds with the kid next door.  Also stars Chris O’Dowd and Melissa McCarthy.

And then we have November…
Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part 1 — The long awaited arrival on November 21st.
Interstellar — Director Christopher Nolan; starring Matthew McConaughey.
Rosewater – This is Daily Show host Jon Stewart’s directing debut!  It’s based on the 2011 memoir of an Iranian-born journalist.

More films to add to your list in November — Penguins of Madagascar, Dumb & Dumber To, and Horrible Bosses 2.

And then we have December –

Into the Woods –  The Broadway musical about sarcastic and cynical fairy tale characters changes colors and becomes a family-friendly Disney film this holdiay season.  Director Rob Marshall weaves together the adventures of Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Little Red Riding Hood, among others, for the screen.  The big bad Wolf (Johnny Depp), the Baker’s Wife (Emily Blunt) and Cinderella’s Prince (Chris Pine).  Marshall says he was surprised by some of the actors’ singing chops, but he expects audiences will really be talking about about Meryl Streep’s vocal performance as the Witch.

More films to add to your list for December –

Exodus: Gods and Kings — Christian Bale as Moses, directed by Rdley Scott.
The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies — The last in the trilogy.
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb — Ben Stiller is back at the museum!
Annie — Quvenzhané Wallis, Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz  star in this new take on the 1977 Broadway musical.
Paddington — The stuffed animal and children’s book character comes to life this holiday season.

And a preview of 2015:  Selma –  Oprah Winfrey teams up with relatively unknown female director (Ava DuVernay), and a British actor (David Oyelowo), for the a Martin Luther King Jr. biopic. Selma chronicles the civil rights leader during three months in 1965, from the ”Bloody Sunday” assault on protesters to the historic march through Alabama… The film will have an Academy run in December before rolling out nationwide by MLK weekend in January,

When the Game Stands Tall shares life lessons

August 26th, 2014 at 2:03 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

CLICK HERE to watch the trailer for When the Game Stands Tall.

Football season is coming!  Full disclosure here – I am a huge football fan. I love the game and all the teamwork, hard hits, wins losses and growth that goes with it.  I love an underdog story and a dominant successful team story.  When the Game Stands Tall brings both of those together.

When the film starts the De La Salle high school football team is on an incredible record-shattering win streak – the most wins by any sports team ever of any kind.  Graduating seniors are riding the wave, college offers are coming in, and everybody is thrilled with the streak!

The head football coach is Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviesel).  He preaches, he inspires, he teaches, and he does it all with his Assistant Coach Teddy (Michael Chicklis) by his side.  But when a health crisis sidelines the coach, he has to focus on his family (some great scenes with his wife — played by Laura Dern) and the team…  has to find it’s way again.  And so does the coach.

The movie is not about the streak it’s about what happens when the streak ends. The emotion, the humanity, the love of the game and what it teaches you… that’s what the movie is about. It is very heavy handed on the preaching and inspiring, to the point of sappy in a screenplay written by Neil Hayes.  I recognize the sappy, especially when the melodramatic score signals a sappy scene.

But! Being a fan of the game, I’m also a fan of football movies. This particular film is probably the best shot film in terms of actual football that I have seen. The hits are hard, the plays are real.  Kudos to the director Thomas Carter for bringing the realness of the game to the screen. The audience in my theater were cheering as if they were watching a real game… that’s how real it felt.

Be prepared -there are a lot of storylines flying around and a lot of locker room speeches.  Technically — in terms of good movie-making — it fails more than it succeeds, but in my book it’s still a winner.


Rated PG for thematic material, a scene of violence, and brief smoking.

The Giver needs more

August 26th, 2014 at 12:34 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

CLICK HERE to watch the trailer for THE GIVER.

The Giver is based on the 1993 young adult novel by Lois Lowery.  As it starts we see a world several generations removed from something called “the Ruin”.

It’s really an imagined Utopia that is void of color and emotion.  When the film gets underway we meet Jonas, Asher, and Fiona — the three best friends about to transition to “their purpose” or their job, something that is selected for them by the elders.

Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is selected to be the keeper of all the memories — so that he may advise the elders.  In order to do this he must receive them from the giver (Jeff Bridges).  And that is something the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) is very concerned about… When The Giver begins giving the memories, Jonas is amazed at the memories he receives and, at first, can’t get enough.

But when he stops taking his daily morning mood injections, he begins to realize the injections are keeping him from feeling, understanding and growing. So he stops the injections and encourages Fiona (Odeya Rush) to do the same.  When he finds out the life of his baby brother is threatened, Jonas knows it’s up to him to save the entire community.

In addition to the star power of Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes plays Jonas’ mother and Alexander Skarsgard stars as his father.  And Taylor Swift plays The Giver’s daughter Rosemary. But with all of the star power running around, The Giver can’t seem to pull together an entertaining feature.  It talks more than it tells a story and never quite manages to grab us the way an audience should be grabbed.  The only actor worth his weight here is Bridges as the title character.  But even that was a bit too weighty and philisophical.  That’s right — I’m not even giving my darling Meryl a shout out here.  I was really left wondering why she was in this film.

Director Phillip Noyce relies too heavily on narration, and it’s not as necessary as you’d think.  With more meat it could have been longer, clocking in at just one hour, 40 minutes.  The Giver spends more time telling us the story than it does giving it to us.


Rated PG-13 for a mature thematic image and some sci-fi action/violence.