Friday, November 27, 2015

The Good Dinosaur

In any other year Pixar's The Good Dinosaur would garner the usual universal praise and go on to win an Oscar. Unfortunately, it comes the same year as the remarkable Inside Out, and it just can't help but pale in comparison. That said, it still stands well above the rest of the animated films released this year, and while it doesn't do anything revolutionary, it does the familiar exceptionally well.

The central premise is that the meteor missed Earth all those millions of years ago, so the dinosaurs lived, and evolved enough to talk and create agriculture ahead of man, who are only beginning to learn to walk on two legs and communicate. Arlo, the timid and smallest of three siblings that live on a farm with their parents, is the center of the story. During a storm he gets swept far away from home, and a tiny little caveboy is his only hope of getting back to his family. Arlo names him Spot.

The Good Dinosaur is basically a "Boy and His Dog" story, except in this case the boy is a dinosaur, and the dog is a boy. Like many Pixar movies, the story is a quest to return to family and home, and like almost all Pixar films, it has moments that had me bawling, and others that had me laughing out loud. (I'd see it again just for the scene with the Pet Collector and a bird named Debbie.) It's also filled with some truly amazing animated scenery that you would swear are actual rolling plains of grain, acres of trees, and storm-filled skies. It may not redefine what animated kids' movies are capable of doing, like Inside Out did, but I'll take it over a song-filled princess movie any day.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Love the Coopers

This review originally appeared on

As I've previously noted, if the cast is large and full of well-known names, you can be pretty sure the movie will be terrible. Love the Coopers proves that point once again. If you think this looks like an uplifting Christmas story about the love of family, think again. Sure, it wants to be, but instead it's a depressing mess. And I'm not talking depressing in the way say, It's a Wonderful Life is a depressing Christmas movie that makes you cry but also feel good about humanity. Love the Coopers is about as enjoyable as one would imagine spending the holidays with a highly dysfunctional family would be.

And that huge cast is just all wrong! Diane Keaton and John Goodman play mom and dad Cooper. I was wondering why the camera seemed to be smeared with Vaseline every time they were on screen, then saw who was cast as their siblings and grandparents and understood; they're suppose to be playing a lot younger than they actually are. Keaton is 69. Alan Arkin, who is 81, plays her father. Marissa Tomei plays her younger sister, and we're talking younger by like six years, not the actual, real-life, 20 year difference between them. Finally, Ed Helms plays their son, who became a father during high school, but whose oldest child is only about 15 and WHAT?!

I bring this all up because it makes for a confusing movie when you're spending the first half trying to understand how all these people could possibly be related to each other. (And don't even get me started on why Steve Martin narrates the whole thing.)

The movie does have its one bright spot, and that's the romantic storyline centered on the Cooper daughter, played by Olivia Wilde, and a newly enlisted solider, (Jake Lacy) she recruits to be her pretend-boyfriend. They'e the source of the film's only real laughs and heart-tugs.


This review originally appeared on

It's both a good thing and a sad thing that I went into the movie Spotlight not knowing all that much about the molestation scandal that rocked the Catholic community in Boston — and the entire country — in 2002. Good because the shocking truths that are slowly and painfully revealed throughout the course of the movie make for some pretty suspenseful viewing. Sad because Jesus Christ everyone should know about this! Hopefully this movie will make sure that happens.

Comparisons to All the Presidents Men are easy but accurate to make: they both present journalism as exciting, important, and riveting stuff. Michael Keaton heads the cast as Walter "Robby" Robinson, lead editor of the Spotlight team at the Boston Globe, a team of investigative journalists that are able to work separately from the daily reporters, following stories for as long as it takes to get them told right. When Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) takes over as the Globe's Editor-in-Chief, he decides to dig deeper in a story about molestation by local Catholic priests, and puts Spotlight on the story.

Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Brian d'Arcy James are solid as the other Spotlight reporters, and their investigation uncovers years and years of abuse and cover-ups within the Catholic Church, as well as a devastating number of abusers and victims. For the most part, the reporters' private lives are left out of the story, and what we see is the team doing their jobs, something that certainly doesn't sound movie-worthy, but most definitely is. The cast is also, for the most part, delightfully subdued, with only Mark Ruffalo having a scene that's just a little too "For Your Consideration."

Friday, November 6, 2015

Too Much Plot: Spectre

This review originally appeared on

I have a conflicted relationship with James Bond movies. In some respects I find them quite boring, as they always follow the same story arcs, and predictably end with Bond living to die another day. The main entertainment comes from the theme song, (can Adele just do them from now on because this new one by Sam Smith is a snooooze), the cool gadgets, the silly villains, and Bond himself. At least, that is, when he's played by Sean Connery. He is and will always be the best Bond.

But I will admit that Daniel Craig has grown on me. He's certainly below Connery in Bond rankings, but definitely above Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan. And he's at his most appealing thus far in Spectre, which may or may not be his final Bond appearance. (If it is, I'm fine with long as Idris Elba fills his shoes.)

In previous films, especially Skyfall, Craig's Bond has been a bit of a downer, coming this close to complaining he's too old for this shit, and looking almost bored by his bedroom conquests. In Spectre, which takes place soon after the events of Skyfall, he has some renewed purpose, going rogue by following the posthumous orders of his beloved M. In all, he's cockier, cracks a few more jokes, and seems a little more eager to get those Bond girls into bed.

The feared merging of MI5 and MI6 that was threatened in Skyfall comes to grim fruition in Spectre, while Bond follows a trail that leads him to the global crime syndicate, Spectre, and a possible connection between it, his past, and the future of MI5 and MI6.

Along the way, Bond visits the dry lands of Mexico and Africa, the snowy alps of Switzerland, and the crumbling ruins of his former offices; hooks up with a mafia widow, (played by the refreshingly age appropriate Monica Bellucci); teams up with the daughter of Quantum member Mr. White, (she's played by Lea Seydoux, who was the blue girl in Blue Is the Warmest Color); destroys one city block, several cars, and one plane; and eventually meets the head of Spectre, played by Christoph Waltz. It's probably not much of a spoiler to say who he is, but just in case I'll only say he has a white Persian cat, wears a Nehru jacket, and has a prominent facial scar...

Spectre's biggest problem is too much plot. While connecting all the Craig Bond films together in this (possibly final) entry may seem like a good idea, the result is way too confusing, and in some ways, just plain silly. (Sibling rivalry is the root cause of Spectre? Really?) The movie drags, at two-and-a-half hours, and by the end of it I was more than ready to leave that theater. Who can blame Daniel Craig for wanting to do the same?