Click into the media player at 12 minutes in to hear Tim Lammers‘ reviews of “The Conjuring 2,” “Now You See Me 2” and “Warcraft: The Beginning” on KQRS-FM.
“Love the Coopers” (PG-13) 3 stars (out of four)
If you’re looking to get into the Christmas spirit early you should at the very least like “Love the Coopers,” a dysfunctional family comedy that avoids the trappings of the genre as it winds down to a predictable yet very sweet conclusion.
Diane Keaton and John Goodman star as Charlotte and Sam Cooper, whose marriage has soured after 40 years together. Wanting to gather their family together for one last Christmas before they split, the Coopers struggle to hold it together as their children and extended family each make their respective treks to the family household.
“Love the Coopers” plays out in five individual stories before the family gathering, as we follow the complicated lives of Cooper children Hank (Ed Helms) and Eleanor (Olivia Wilde), grandpa Bucky (Alan Arkin), Charlotte’s sister, Emma (Marisa Tomei), and of course, Charlotte and Sam.
Hank is going through a divorce and is in search of a job, while Eleanor has a mess of a love life until she meets a soldier (Jake Lacy) on leave. Bucky, a lonesome widower, is distraught that his good friend, Ruby (Amanda Seyfried) is moving away; while Emma struggles to come to terms with her longtime sibling rivalry with Charlotte. Also involved wrapped up in the family trials are a taciturn police officer (Anthony Mackie), an eccentric aunt (June Squibb) and Hank’s estranged wife (Alex Borstein) and their lovelorn teenage son, Charlie (Timothee Chalamet).
“Love the Coopers” feels like a number of different films, from “Home for the Holidays” to “A Christmas Story,” because the story is aided with a wise, introspective narration. It also feels a lot like “Love, Actually,” because it starts out with separate stories that eventually intertwine.
Despite its shortcomings, “Love the Coopers” works because it could have easily gone the way of a screwball comedy, yet instead relies on its gifted cast’s talents as actors whom possess natural gifts for both drama and comedy. It has a surprising blend of humor and poignancy, all while telling us a story we all know too well: Families are complicated. But since the Coopers are loaded with family members you can relate to, don’t be surprised if you leave the film with a big smile on your face.
“Spotlight” (R) 3 1/2 stars (out of four)
Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams head up an all-star cast in writer-director Thomas McCarthy’s “Spotlight,” a compelling film about the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team’s investigation into the Boston Archdiocese child sex abuse scandal – a report that led to a falling out in the Catholic Church and exposure of hundreds more scandals in parishes nationwide.
Set largely in 2001 – in the days before the Wild West journalism of the Internet (and a sad reminder of how investigative journalism is currently on life support) – “Spotlight” follows editor Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), reporters Michael Rezendes (Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) as the team digs into allegations of child molestation against defrocked priest John Geoghan. As it turns out, Geoghan is only the tip of a very large iceberg, leading the reporters to groundbreaking investigation into the Catholic Church’s cover-ups of child sex abuse by defrocked, and in some cases, reassigned, priests.
“Spotlight” runs the gamut of emotions. You’ll feel sadness hearing the tragic revelations of abuse survivors in interviews conducted by reporters; and anger when you see the thinly-veiled threats by the church’s powerful supporters as Spotlight is urged to back off its investigation. There’s also frustration as journalists desperately try to get sensitive court documents unsealed, and disbelief as the reporters uncover a coded system in the church’s records to detect how priests accused of abuse were dealt with in a very large and convoluted system.
In the end, “Spotlight” is a very difficult film to watch, but an important film to watch nonetheless. It’s easily one of the best films of the year.
The cinematic universe has
This summer, though, the acclaimed actress is keeping things down to Earth, quite literally, with the family drama “Infinitely Polar Bear.” But while her role is decidedly different than Lt. Uhura and Gamora, Saldana said signing on to the film was more a matter of happenstance than a conscious decision to play opposite ends of the movie spectrum.
“I wish I was ‘The Man with the Plan,’ but I’m really not that kind of artist. I never have a whole year lined up,” Saldana told me in a recent interview. “Every now and then a project will come, whether it comes in small independent package or in a big studio package, and if I like the story and if I feel like it’s going to be a wonderful experience to be a part of it, then I’ll start pursuing it.”
Now playing in select cites and expanding throughout the U.S. in July, “Infinitely Polar Bear” tells the story of Maggie (Saldana) and Cam (Mark Ruffalo), a once happily-in-love couple with a pair of young daughters (Ashley Aufderheide and Imogene Wolodarsky), whose marriage eventually falls apart over Cam’s inability to deal with his manic depression.
Separating from Cam and struggling as a single mother with the girls in small apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Maggie, stressed and broke, comes up with a solution: If she can attend business school at Columbia University and earn an MBA in 18 months, she can ensure a better life for daughters. However, she can only do it with the help of Cam — that is if he can take responsibility of his daughters as well as himself — while she’s away in New York.
Saldana said once she read the script by writer-director Maya Forbes, she was desperate to do the film.
“I just kept reading the script over and over again — it was so beautiful and spoke to me on so many levels. It was real, so I wanted to be a part of it and do the character justice because it was so special to me,” Saldana said. “It deals with a very heavy subject with bi-polar disorder. So many people are affected by it, yet we know so little about it. Maya captured it in a very beautiful way because not every scene is about Cam’s condition. Every scene is about her father and her mother, and her sister and herself. The dad has this condition, but he’s a great guy and he tries hard every day. That’s what I loved.”
If that wasn’t enough, Saldana, 37, said stories of father-daughter relationships always resonate with her on a personal level.
“I lost my dad when I was very young, so I’m a sucker for stories having to do with daughters and fathers. I just had to be a part of this,” said Saldana, who just had twin sons in November with her husband, Marco Perego.
“Infinitely Polar Bear’s” approach is unique in that, while the film is set in 1978, it doesn’t draw any attention to Maggie and Cam being a bi-racial couple. In fact, apart from one brief scene where Maggie discusses her black heritage with one of her daughters, race is not mentioned throughout the entire picture. Saldana, whose mother is Puerto Rican and late father was Dominican, said she’s glad Forbes didn’t turn the film into a racial discussion.
In a day an age where the subject of race is broached on many different levels daily, I told Saldana how refreshing it was to see Maggie and Cam not portrayed as a black parent and white parent (and nearly 40 years ago, no less) struggling with their marriage and who both love their children; but simply as parents struggling with their marriage and who both love their children.
“I’m so happy that you mentioned that. I always wait for people to mention race in order for us to talk about it,” Saldana told me. “Race is not a subject that I spend a lot of time with because I don’t want to, unless it’s done in the right way. That’s what I loved about this film, because it reminded me of the way I grew up. My father was much darker than my mother, but it was never about that growing up at home. They never mentioned anything about color unless we were painting on paper or deciding what we wanted to wear. It was never about the skin color of people.”
Saldana said Forbes grew up in the same way, which gave the film the proper insight of not making an issue out of race.
“We tell more stories where people make an issue out of it, and generally those stories are by outsiders looking in,” Saldana observed. “But the people who were in it — and whatever the case may be, whether it had to do with their race, gender or growing up with two parents of the same sex — it was never about that. When you’re in it, you’re not talking about it, you’re simply living it.”
Effectively, that’s how Saldana could tell how Forbes’ script was authentic — something the actress doesn’t get with every screenplay she reads.
“It’s something I always point out to writers. I can tell with stories when a person of a certain culture is writing about a foreign culture because they point out on every page and every scene something about the foreign culture,” Saldana said. “It’s like when a white writer writes about one character is black. They will have a white character at some point make a joke or a statement about their color. You can tell who the writer is without knowing them.”
But when the writer does get it right, like Forbes does with “Infinitely Polar Bear,” it’s an exhilarating feeling, Saldana added.
“When we’re talking about art and actors, we’re hired to be chameleons. We’re hired to do a job and if we do it well, you’re not going to see me, you’re going to see the character I’m trying my hardest to bring to life,” Saldana said. “So when that can be seen or pointed out, or I’ve been told that I’ve accomplished that, then I know that the writer has gets it and I’m on the right path. It just makes me feel really good to be doing what I do.”
“Avengers: Age of Ultron” (PG-13) 3 1/2 stars (out of four)
Earth’s mightiest heroes are disassembled and reconfigured in an exciting new way in “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” a thrilling, complex and action-packed sequel to the overrated 2012 original.
Once again written and directed by Joss Whedon, the hotly anticipated follow-up to “The Avengers” delves deeper into the fragile psyches of the seemingly unstoppable band of superheroes. It also skillfully blends a new villain and additional super-powered characters to the mix, thereby distancing it from any potential threats of sequelitis. The progression of the narrative feels natural and doesn’t try to rest in any way on its laurels, even though the film is a sure-fire box office blockbuster.
“Age of Ultron” picks up in the fictional Eastern European country of Sokovia, where the villainous organization HYDRA holds Loki’s scepter from the first “Avengers” film in their bid to develop weapons of mass destruction. The team recaptures it, but thanks to the wicked, mind-altering powers of Wanda Maximoff (Elisabeth Olson) and hyper-speed of her twin brother, Pietro Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a trap is set by Hydra when Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) uses the scepter’s power to jumpstart his dormant global peacekeeping “Ultron” program. Stark has the support of Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), but the rest of the team – Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) feel left out in the dark.
The final execution of the program, which helps Stark finally realizes his goal of artificial intelligence, ultimately manifests itself in a super robot named Ultron (voice of James Spader), who not only wants to kill his creator, but rule the Earth after he realizes his plan of global annihilation. And that’s especially a big problem when the Avengers as a team find themselves at breaking point, where loyalties are questioned and trust becomes a big issue, since members of the group have different ideas on how to proceed with stopping the enemy and creating a peaceful future.
Coming in at just over 2 hours and 20 minutes, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” doesn’t feel too long, but rather a complete story because Whedon wisely uses his time to weave in the darker, complex vignettes of each team member in between all the action. For this reason, the film has more of a Christopher Nolan “Dark Knight” sort of edge to it, making the narrative that much more satisfying. While there are plenty of gags and laughs in the “Age of Ultron,” to be sure (a burgeoning romance between Hulk and Black Widow spurs some saucy humor, and there are also running jokes about Cap’s clean-cut demeanor and Thor’s hammer), it’s just refreshing to see that Whedon has adapted to the darker path of the Marvel movie series, where life for its superheroes moves onto shakier ground.
Of course, “Age of Ultron” is packed to the hilt with action, and the special visual effects are about as good as it gets. Particularly impressive is how the fluidness of the metal-based Ultron allows for some expressiveness, and you can really feel Spader’s smarmy characterization flowing through it. The hotly anticipated Hulkbuster scene is also hugely entertaining and diehard fans will definitely not be disappointed.
While the core cast of “Age of Ultron” delivers as expected, it’s exciting to see the introduction of new Marvel Universe characters to the mix like Vision (Paul Bettany) — who is a particularly thrilling addition — and the Maximoffs, who are finely realized by Olsen and Taylor-Johnson. And, without revealing too much, it’s great to see a hint of how the Avengers team is undergoing changes as the film series heads into the two part “Avengers: Infinity War” chapters coming in 2018 and 2019. There will be more in between, though, with “Ant-Man” (in July) and more “Captain America” and “Thor,” because the Marvel Universe is an expansive one – and we can’t get enough of it.
Tim Lammers is a veteran entertainment reporter and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films for “KARE 11 News at 11” and various Minnesota radio stations.