Stephanie Cooke

Not loving Lucy

July 28th, 2014 at 5:32 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

LUCY is an action-thriller of monumental proportions.  In fact the themes explored in the movie are so big — too big — it’s hard to wrap your mind around.
It starts by questioning what we — humanity that is — have accomplished since life began.  The questioning comes as voice over from Lucy, while visually we see another Lucy — Australopithecus in her natural habitat…. and then the advancement of time to busy cityscapes.  Wow.  I think to myself — we’ve accomplished a lot.  Apparently not Lucy doesn’t think so.

Scarlett Johansson is Lucy — an American woman in Taipei, apparently as a student (at one point she says she has exams tomorrow).  Her new boyfriend wants her to help him out by delivering a case to a “Mr. Jang” in a hotel.  Of course she refuses.  He forces her to do it, and soon everything goes bad, and Lucy is taken away by thugs to meet with the said Mr. Jang.
After beatings and killings and washing of hands in the middle of the hotel room, Lucy becomes a drug mule — she’s knocked out and has a bag of a very new, very powerful drug surgically inserted into her stomach.  She has to carry this where they want her to or else.
Bad things happen; the bag begins to leak inside her body and her brain is accessing more and more of her cerebral space allowing her to do some pretty amazing things.  She can read entire volumes in seconds; she can control technology, people, her hair color and so much more.
With Mr Jang’s gang hot on her heels — Lucy recruits a policeman in Paris (Amr Waked) to help her get to an American professor there (Morgan Freeman).  I’m still not sure entirely why.

There are car chases; there are explosions; there are fights that are useless, because as Lucy accesses more and more of her “cerebral capacity” she’s unstoppable.  That gives away the end of the movie… kind of?  NO! not unless you were expecting worm holes, meteor showers, and melting humans becoming computers???  What?
Writer/director Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita and The Professional to The Fifth Element) has launched some pretty bad movies into theaters — this is one weird movie.  Odd nature scenes intercut at random times.  The plot is weak; the characters are weaker.
Scarlett Johansson does an adequate job trying to hold together the character that doesn’t seem to really come together as a character.  And sadly — this is not Morgan Freeman’s best work… largely because of the weak professor character.
When it was over I felt like I’d been in the theater for two hours, and when I checked the clock… It had been just 89 minutes!
If you watch the trailers — it looks like we are in for an amazing action flick with a dominant female hero.  What we get seems more like a Indy-wannabe film made by a dude that loves to create special effects and not characters to drive the film.

TWO OUT OF FIVE COOKIES.  The two are for the special effects… I am a story person — and this story gets ZERO cookies from me.

Rated R for strong violence, disturbing images, and sexuality.

Planes: Fire & Rescue has rough landing

July 25th, 2014 at 3:49 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

   Planes: Fire & Rescue is the sequel to last year’s Planes which wasn’t quite up to par. But Dusty Crophopper has new challenges to face and just how will he fare in his new gig?  That is the question.
Dusty (voiced again by Dane Cook) is back at his home airstrip after his racing champion ways of the last movie… only to discover that his aging mechanics aren’t as reliable as he’d like (welcome to your forties).  He refuses to accept his diagnosis and when he pushes things too far, a bad landing ends up shutting down the airstrip.
Before long he has to face facts: his racing days may be over.  Which leads him to travel far away for training in his new job as a fire and rescue plane.  The world of fire and rescue is dangerous and exciting, and Dusty has of course taken his he can do everything attitude with him.

Soon faced with a very dangerous fire at the park… the team has to really come together to save lives, save property and save themselves.
And there’s also a bit of love in the air… on of the fire planes is Dipper (voiced by Modern Family‘s Julie Bowen).  Dipper is very taken with her DUST MUFFIN. She has some fun lines sprinkled about.
And Planes: Fire & Rescue is chock full of celebrity voices… here’s a taste… Ed Harris, Curtis Armstrong, Hal Holbrook, Teri Hatcher, Regina King, Cedric the Entertainer, Fred WIllard, Anne Meara, Jerry Stiller, Erik Estrada, Brent Musberger amd of course as all disney animations must…. John Ratzenberger.
After saving the day and learning some lessons, Dusty is soon headed for home and helping to transform the airstrip.

The film is full of the standard puns we’ve seen before in Planes and it’s predecessors in the CARS series.  Even though some lines got a chuckle out of the grown ups, they are really beginning to get tiring.
The story is a bit fresher than last year’s Planes, it’s still not classic material… and it’s presented in 3D.  And for my money — 3D is a useless purchase.  Very few moments even warrant the glasses and certainly no need for the extra layer.
Planes: Fire & Rescue got a thumbs from most of the under-10 set of audience members — my son included.  But for me — while it was mildly entertaining — and I only thought about my to-do list twice — this sequel hit me much like Dusty’s problem in the film — Pushing for success so much that the engine can’t take it — Disney needs to consider falling back or risk stalling at the box office.


Rated PG for action and some peril.

Begin Again strikes the right note

July 25th, 2014 at 3:02 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

It’s called Begin Again and on opening weekend it wasn’t playing everywhere in Hampton Roads, but maybe it should have been… I saw it at Regal Columbus at Town Center, and the theater was thirds full.

   Begin Again is a movie about the record business that plays like an indie flick with commercial appeal.   Mark Ruffalo is Dan — a record label executive who seems to have been drunk and out of touch with his life for quite sometime.  He lives in a terrible apartment (apparently with no sheets) — apart from his estranged wife (Catherine Keener, Enough Said) and teenage daughter (played by Hailee Steinfeld).  As the day started — he was late for a meeting and ends up fired from the labelhe started.  That’s got to be a bad sign right?
That’s when he stumbles into a bar and hears Gretta (Keira Knightly, Pirates of the Carribean) singing.  After imagining the entire arrangement of the song in his own mind… he quickly moves to snap her up and change the course of both of their lives in the process.
So Gretta’s story is that she moved to New York with her boyfriend, her college sweetheart Dave (Adam Levine) who had just signed a record deal.  She is the songwriter… he’s on his way to stardom and leaving Gretta in the dust — thanks to the trappings of the music industry and the temptations that come with it.  When Dan approaches her in the bar — all of the downfall has just begun … but the flashbacks give us a glimpse into their pre-fame life with Dave…

Dan and Gretta set out to record her album with her songs in an edgy and fresh way — completely natural with all of the ambient sounds of summer in New York City.  He solicits help from everyone he can think of — including a major star he discovered played by Ceelo Green.  Mos Def is also along for the ride.
The recording mission becomes somewhat of a transformation for Dan and Gretta.  It’s nice to watch it all unfold in a very authentic way.
Ruffalo does a great job with this character — making us both, not like him and like him at the same time.  Knightly is perfect in the role and despite some struggles in the acting department, Adam Levine is awesome (to look at*).
Begin Again is written and directed by John Carney (Once) for the Weinstein Company and it strikes just the right chord.  We get a very real inside look at the recording industry and all that it does to make or break an artist — and intersting characters and storyline developments to compliment it.
Begin Again is not a love story per say but it is a love-ly story.


Rated R for language.

*writer’s opinion :-)

Tammy Totally Terrible

July 25th, 2014 at 2:56 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

This film is the story of TAMMY (Melissa McCarthy) and her very bad day… err… life.  Let’s start with her bad day.

She wrecks her car, her job (fired by her boss / Melissa McCarthy’s real-life husband Ben Falcone), and her marriage (she finds her husband Greg/Nat Faxon–whom I’ve met– cajoling in her house with the neighbor played by Toni Collette).  So she pretty much has no choice but to flee the city with her ailing/alcoholic grandma Pearl (Susan Sarandon).  She’s totally broke and Pearl has a car and some cash… so they hit the road, much to the dismay of her mother (Allison Janney. Yep… that sums up her day.)
Before long the pair find themselves at a bar in Louisville, looking for a good time.   So they spend some time drinking, some time fighting and before long, there’s jail time, quasi-armed robbery for bail money, and a lesbian Fourth of July party.  I mention the party because it’s where we meet Pearl’s cousin Lenore (Kathy Bates and her partner Susanne (Sandra Oh).  They are instrumental to the change in direction of Tammy and Pearl’s lives.  (And they are known to be good actors.)
They eventually go home to face the music and reality.   And guess who comes to get Tammy at the very end of the movie?  Her Dad (played by Dan Aykroyd), whom we haven’t seen the entire film.  And as films like this do… they try to tie all the storylines up with a pretty bow.
The screenplay is written by Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone and Directed by Ben Falcone — might I add badly directed by Ben Falcone.
Tammy tries to be a kind of goofball comedy, and then a road comedy, and then “I don’t know what”.  The characters are thin and when the shift happens near the end in an attempt to hit viewers in the heart with a poignant twist… it doesn’t work at all.  Awkward.
I was really wishing and hoping for something watchable with the list of truly TALENTED stars that were in this film.  Many of their lines come off like they are reading lines (more of a problem with the director and the script — not necessarily the actors) I kept thinking — what a waste of talent!  There were two laugh-out-loud moments for me.  That’s it TWO!  For a comedy!  Seeing Nat Faxon and Allison Janney made my mind wander back to last summer and one of my favorite summer films — The Way Way Back.    Rent that.


Rated R for language including sexual references.

Earth to Echo doesn’t really resonate

July 25th, 2014 at 2:37 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

   Earth to Echo is the summer family adventure movie that will make you want to phone home.      The main characters are great characters.  Tuck, Munch and Alex are best friends on the verge of losing each other.  Tuck (Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley, The X Factor) is a filmmaker in the making — the entire film is his perspective;  Alex (Teo Halm) is the foster kid with the heart; and Munch (Reese Hartwig) is the technology whiz.
A massive highway expansion construction project is about to level their neighborhood.  When they begin receiving some weird kind of signals on their cell phones, they are convinced that something bigger is going on.  That’s when they set out on an adventure that none of them would have suspected.  Before long they are face-to-face with a bonafide alien, and they really can’t believe it.  They go right to work when they realize the alien needs their help.

They dub the little guy ECHO and after a series of question-and-answer sessions, they know what they need to do.  But there are bad guys disguised as construction workers trying to find Echo.
There are a series of cat-and-mouse scenes and along the way, the buddy trio takes on a fourth member — a girl from school named Emma (Ella Wahlestedt, Army Wives).  The four of them are determined to understand Echo and help him get home.  They never expected to learn so much from the little alien — who by the way is just adorable.
Dave Green makes his directorial debut with a screenplay written by Henry Gayden (no film writing credits) and struggled to find the right footing for this story.  Clearly inspired by much of what Steven Spielberg has already done, Earth to Echo never achieves any of it.  There are scenes that will remind you of E.T.  There are scenes that seem inspired by Goonies… I even saw moments that reminded my of Stand by Me.    All favorite films of mine… but Earth to Echo doesn’t come close.  It’s likeable enough, but there are flaws everywhere.  We never quite come to care about all of the characters, the adults are peripheral, and the whole deal with how and when echo ended up on earth ?    I never really got it.

Interesting to note — Disney made this film in 2012, shelved it and then sold it to Relativity who has released it now.  Seems like Disney didn’t know what to do with it and I see why.
What did I really NOT like?  The camera work.  It’s first person point of view and that makes a potentially really nausea-inducing experience.  It was for me in the beginning of the film, though I got used to it as we went along.  But for my girlfriend, she had her head buried almost the entire film.  The kids seemed to adjust quickly, but 99% of the film is shot shaky and can be really hard to watch.
I WAS absolutely stunned by one scene — you may have seen in a preview… Echo disassembles and then reassembles a tractor-trailer truck coming right at the kids in order to avoid a head-on collision.  It was worth every second of the time it spent being created!
The lesson we learn in the end is a good one about friendship… but!  The bigger lesson is bring the motion sickness meds!

Rated PG for some action and peril, and mild language.

Jersey Boys hits a high note

June 24th, 2014 at 5:54 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

CLICK HERE to watch the trailer for Jersey Boys.

Jersey-Boys-poster-1I’m going to be honest… I wasn’t going to see this screening, but my mom wanted to see it and the screening was on her birthday so I did what good daughters do… And boy, was I surprised!

The film Jersey Boys is based on the Tony Award-winning musical that took Broadway by storm some years ago.  It’s the story of the four guys that came together to make music history.  Paths collide on the wrong side of the tracks for these four guys from Jersey.

You’ve got Frankie (as in Valli, John Lloyd Young), Tommy (Vincent Piazza, Boardwalk Empire), Nick (Michael Lomenda) and Bob (Erich Bergen, Desperate Housewives).  Bob is the last one in, and the writer of some of the most legendary hits of the era.  Tommy is the gang leader and band leader.  He is very much the one who says jump and how high.  The evolution of how the group works all hinges on Tommy… Even the name of the group is something Tommy wants to control.

But after a clandestine conversation outside of a bowling alley,  the become the Four Seasons!  As the group struggles to book gigs and make records that will get played… they begin to define their rolls in the group.   Of course everyone needs someone to believe in them… and for the four guys from Jersey — especially Franki — it was Angelo “Gyp” DeCarlo (Christopher Walken).  He’s a crucial player in the formation of the group and in saving them when the chips fall… but more on that later.

Some of the back story is slow-moving and a bit of a bore, but it’s seemingly necessary to build to the finish and understand how everything ends up.  The back story also makes us appreciate the shining moments of the stage, the highs along with the lows of the story of the Four Seasons.  One by one, we get the behind-the-scenes stories of the biggest hits of the Four Seasons.  From “Sherry Baby” to “Walk Like a Man” … we go zooming through from the history to the stage.

At the center of the story of course is Frankie Valli.  Frank Lloyd Young originated the Valli role in the Broadway hit and Clint Eastwood knew he had to use him in the big screen version.  Young shines in his first big box office role!  Can’t imagine anyone else hitting the right notes as Frankie Valli.

Michael Lomenda and Erich Bergen had performed in the stage tour of Jersey Boys as Nick and Bob respectively… and were awesome in their roles and Vincent Piazza from Emmy-inning TV show Boardwalk Empire brought the right amount of darkness and spiral to the role of Tommy.  In fact we learn that Tommy created such a strain on the group, he was the downfall of the Four Seasons.  Even Gyp DeCarlo couldn’t rescue the group from the mess Tommy made of the group’s finances.  It’s fascinating to watch it all unfold amid the lights and spectacle of them being a supergroup in the time.

Directed by Clint Eastwood, the screen version of Jersey Boys leans heavier on the story than the music — which should really be the star of the story.  The back story is heavy and dark and slow, but the musical moments shine, just don’t get enough of them.  It seems clear to me that Eastwood was less willing to show the musical side than he was enchanted with sharing the back story itself.

While there are some clunky parts here and there, I’m a big girl and “Big Girls Don’t Cry” over the little things… Jersey Boys is entertaining and hits it’s target audience where it lives… I know I’ll still love it tomorrow.


Rated R for language throughout.

Dragon 2 is not your mother’s sequel…

June 20th, 2014 at 4:54 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

CLICK HERE to see the trailer for How to Train Your Dragon 2.

dragon 2So if you saw the original How to Train Your Dragon, you know it was about Hiccup — the motherless son of a Viking chief — and how he had to capture a dragon in order to assume his rite of passage into manhood.  Which he did and that’s how we met Toothless his dragon best friend.

Well now here we are ready for the sequel and Hiccup is tasked by his father Stoick (voiced by Gerard Butler) to become the new chief of the tribe on the island of Berk and Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel, She’s Out of my League, This is the End, Million Dollar Baby) wants nothing to do with it.

Hiccup is content to ride the skies with Toothless mapping new areas and having new adventures.  Until the adventures lead them into quite the mess.  Hiccup hears that a mean man that goes by the name of Drago Blood Fist is capturing dragons and building a dragon army.  On the search for (Drago to talk some sense into him) …Hiccup and Toothless discover — the Dragon Rider — along with an ice cave that hides hundreds of dragons. But who is this Dragon Rider?

SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!!!! — The Dragon Rider is none other than his long lost mother Valka (voiced by Cate Blanchett).  Before long the family is back together and fighting an epic battle to save not only their tribe, but dragons everywhere.  Drago BloodFist (Djimon Hounsou) brings fury by hypnotizing dragons and bringing them under his spell of his alpha dragon.  It challenges our ideas of peace, family and dragons.

Written for the screen by the Director Dean DeBlois along with Cressida Cowell (author of the book series) Dragon 2 looks less like a sequel (as we have come to know them) and more like the second part of the first movie.  The animation and story have lost nothing in the four years since the first film.  The animation is baffling for those of us who understand even a little bit how these characters come to life.  It’s fluid and simply awesome.  I was particularly happy to see that the characters remain true — witty and naive, yet totally human, not immune to fatal decisions and bad choices, yet able to overcome what life throws at them.

There are so many voices to mention including America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Craig Ferguson, and Kristen Wiig.  All good choices to add to the main characters voices…

The only downfall for me to mention is there are quite a few speeches and it can come off preachy to some, but the action balances it and I doubt little kids will tire of the good versus evil excitement that dominates most of the film.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 soars! It’s an exceptional sequel that isn’t afraid to go to the dark side.  Parents be warned, there are some scary scenes and some very sad scenes you’ll want to consider before taking little ones.  FYI — It’s available in 3D and I rarely recommend it… but may just be worth it in this case.


Rated PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor.

Few faults with The Fault in Our Stars

June 9th, 2014 at 5:39 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

CLICK HERE to watch the trailer for The Fault in Our Stars.

fault posterThe Fault in Our Stars is adapted from the immensely popular young adult novel by John Green. The Fault in our Stars is so beloved by it’s fans, that many worried the film version could never do the book justice… On the contrary!

It stars Shailene Woodley (The Descendants, The Secret Life of an American Teenager) as Hazel Grace — a 17-year old whose been battling cancer since age 13.  She’s wise beyond her years, because you grow up fast when you have cancer.  Knowing her days are numbered she wishes for the normal things in life — like climbing steps without being so minded you have to sit down on step number 5 — oh and falling love.  She really longs for that.  Enter Ansel Elgort (Divergent, Carrie) as Gus — a “former” cancer patient who quickly falls head over heels in love with Hazel Grace.   They are both extraordinary teens.  They are witty, and unconventional — in fact they abhor the conventional.

Before long Hazel is falling for Gus, but she’s so concerned about him being hurt when she dies, she pushes him away.  They share a love for a novel about a young cancer patient written by Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe).  Van Houten is an American living in Amsterdam.  Hazel has so many questions, Gus arranges for a trip to meet him.

It doesn’t turn out the way they had hoped with the author… but it still ends up being the most amazing trip of their lives.  The tables turn and Gus is no longer in remission.  The rest of the film is a treatise on dealing with life, love and mortality.  And it boasts the questions what exactly is infinity and what is immortality?

Directed by Josh Boone (his only other credit is 2013′s Stuck in Love), The Fault in Our Stars manages to avoid over sentimentalizing the story and stay out of the way of the actors giving some amazing performances.  Woodley and Elgort are just spot on.  They are so authentic in these roles, that you are rooting for them from the jump.  And shout out to Laura Dern and Willem Defoe for shining performances here.

It’s a kind of a studio tear-jerker, that managed to rise above all of that.  While the story doesn’t end up the way we would want — ie that “happy ending” — it’s amazingly satisfying.  At so many turns, you realize that you just got an important life lesson without realizing, or the movie seeming to try to teach it.  That’s pretty amazing.  In fact — haven’t left a movie and wanted to read the book it was based on as much as I do with this one.  Everyone I know who’s already read it — loved it — and appreciated the movie all the more.

As teen romance films go, The Fault in Our Stars has relatively few faults.

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and brief strong language.

More like… A Million Ways to Die… in a movie theater

June 9th, 2014 at 5:31 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

Click Here to watch the trailer for A Million Ways to Die in the West.

a-million-ways-to-die-in-the-west-wanted-posterThis comedy / Wild West tale is unlike anything you’ve seen in the west before.  Not even Blazing Saddles was like this.  A Million Ways to Die in the West is produced, directed, and co-written by Seth MacFarlane (of Ted and Family Guy fame).

MacFarlane also stars as Albert — the main character — a sheep farmer who is afraid of gun fights he seems to frequently find himself invited to.  His girlfriend leaves him and as he starts to get over the heartbreak… he is soon practically courting the mysterious new girl in town.

Charlize Theron is the new girl — Anna — who starts to fall for Albert’s uniqueness.  She sets out to help Albert find his courage.  Anna actually is married (unbeknownst to Albert) to a badguy — the notorius outlaw Clinch (Liam Neeson).  And before long, Clinch is in town and finds out Albert has been making some moves on his Anna. Surprise!!!! Gunfight preparations are in order!

The film also stars Amanda Siefried as Albert’s former girlfriend; Neil Patrick Harris as Louise’s new beau Foy; Giovanni Rabisi as his best friend Edward; and Sarah Silverman as Edwards prostitute-girlfriend Ruth.

There are also plenty of cameos… including the likes of Ewan McGregor, Gilbert Gotfried, Christopher Lloyd and Jamie Foxx.  But not even the stars or the cameos can save this boring western wannabe.  There are tired jokes and the ridiculous re-telling of the tired jokes.  You never start to care about the characters and some of the potty humor falls WAAAAY short of funny.

The writing is weak… in fact, to me, it seems as though it were written by a group of friends drinking and sitting around a TV room accidentally coming up with funny scenes, laughing at themselves while saying “yeah yeah yeah!  Write that down!” and then deciding that would make a good movie.

Yeah…. no.  I absolutely loved MacFarlane’s last writing/directing adventure — Ted — and that’s why I expected so much more from A Million Ways to Die in the West.  What I learned is that not every movie is a hit just because you had ONE.   Certainly hoping Ted 2 is gets Seth back in the swing of things — it was just announced that it’s slated for release for next year.

The characters didn’t talk about boredom being one of the million ways to die in the west, but I certainly think it could be a way to die in a theater after seeing this one.

VERY RATED R!!!!!!  for strong crude and sexual content, language throughout, some violence and drug material.


Million Dollar Arm hits home run

June 9th, 2014 at 5:24 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

Click Here to watch the trailer for Million Dollar Arm.

million dollar armMillion Dollar Arm is based on a true story!  It stars Jon Hamm as JB Bernstein — a previously successful sports agent who branched out to form his own company and a few years later, finds himself and his business on the brink of failure.

That’s when he has a genius idea!  To search the countrysides of India in a contest to find a cricket player to turn into a major league pitcher.  He gets a mega investor to bank roll the idea and award a million dollars to the winner — the winner must be good enough to sign with an MLB team.

Alan Arkin (I loved him in Argo!) stars as Ray the long-time big league scout JB hires to help him find the finalists to bring back to the U.S.  The contest pitstops across India prove very interesting.  One kid they find is given the nickname The Flamingo.  He is Rinku played by Suraj Sharma (star of the Life of Pi). Rinku and the other finalist Dinesh (Madhur Mittal, Slumdog Millionaire) come to the U.S. along with their interpreter Amit (Pitobash) to learn the game of baseball.

Bill Paxton plays their coach and Lake Bell is Brenda, JB’s love interest.  They all become a happy little family, trying to get to the finish line… something they call an “improbable possibilty”.

Jon Hamm and Alan Arkin more than deliver on their roles.  Arkin plays Ray with a wise-but-stodgy, old man sophistication.  Hamm’s ability to transform the character from ego-centric, not-the-nicest guy in town, to a very likeable grown up, is fun to watch.   Sharma, Mittal, and Pitobash have youthful, naive enthusiasm in the delivery of their roles.  Not only does that make them exceptionally likeable, but viewers are quickly rooting for them!

It’s directed by Craig Gillespie with good pacing and timing, and he manages to pull some nice acting out of these characters.   Watching the onscreen family come together –while somewhat predictable in a script by Tom McCarthy — is certainly satisfying to the viewer.

As Disney movies tend to do, the underdogs defy the odds and come up winners, even if there are some seemingly insurmountable hurdles.  By the end of the film — Million Dollar Arm has hit a home run.

Rated PG for mild language and some suggestive content.