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Movie reviews: ‘Love the Coopers,’ ‘Spotlight’

Diane Keaton and John Goodman in 'Love the Coopers' (CBS Films)

By Tim Lammers

“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.

Movie review: ‘San Andreas,’ ‘Aloha’

Carla Gugino and Dwayne Johnson in 'San Andreas' (photo -- Warner Bros)

By Tim Lammers

“San Andreas” (PG-13) 3 stars (out of four)

Ridiculous scenarios and a paper-thin plot and characters aside, it’s hard to, well, fault “San Andreas” – a wildly conceived and thrillingly executed natural disaster movie that is pure summer popcorn drenched with gobs of butter. Starring the affable Dwayne Johnson and featuring megatons of earth-shattering visual effects, “San Andreas” is certainly not the best movie of this young summer movie blockbuster season, but ranks among one of the most entertaining.

Johnson stars as Ray Gaines, a Los Angeles Fire Department Rescue chopper pilot  who has no boundaries when it comes to risking his life to save others. Despite his achievements in the field, Ray is haunted by a family tragedy that led to the separation from his wife, Emma (Carla Gugino) and estrangement from their adult daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario) — so he’s willing to face hell on earth when “The Big One” hits.

The problem is, the event is not one big earthquake, but a series of them that begins at the Hoover Dam. Intensifying  in power with each earthquake, the series of ultra-destructive events continues with a run up the entire San Andreas fault line. The biggest and worst one – along with a tsunami — is set to hit San Francisco, where Blake is holding on for dear life.

Amid the crumbling buildings, people scattering and the earth shattering, “San Andreas” follows three sets of characters: Ray and Emma, who plow through hazards in the air, land and sea in a desperate attempt to find their daughter; Blake, who forms a bond with aspiring businessman Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his younger brother Ollie (Art Parkinson) as they battle the harsh elements; and a reporter (Arch

ie Panjabi) who helps an earthquake scientist  (the always great Paul Giamatti) warn the residents of San Francisco of their impending doom.

Unlike Johnson’s previous action movie blockbuster “Furious 7,” “San Andreas” does its best to assemble a story amid all the chaos involving the characters. But as evidenced by the film’s nail-chomping opening rescue scene, “San Andreas” is all about the action and effects, and the intensity rarely lets up for the film’s 114-minute run-time.

The characters, while all likeable (apart from Ioan Gruffudd, who is perfectly slimy as Emma’s weasel boyfriend), are really only pawns to support the film’s majestic visual effects, which to director Brad Peyton’s credit, sometimes boom out of nowhere so loudly that you can’t help but jump out of your seat. “San Andreas” is one of those movies that has to be seen on the big screen if you want to experience its full effect, and for Californians, it’s one that will leave audiences quaking in their boots.

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“Aloha” (PG-13) 1 1/2 stars (out of four)

God only knows what exactly writer-director Cameron Crowe’s intentions were with the ambitious but ultimately ambivalent “Aloha,” a disappointing dramedy that has all the right talent but can’t seem to figure out what to do with it. Awkward, disjointed and sometimes just plain confusing, “Aloha,” which stars Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone, seems to be suffering from an identity crisis. Is it a romance? Is it a comedy? Is it a tale of redemption? Is it a tale about Hawaiian spirits? Is it a cautionary tale about weapons of mass destruction?

As odd as it sounds, all of those elements are dancing inside the frames of the 105-minute film, but never quite seem to gel.

Cooper stars as Brian Gilcrest, a former, starry-eyed Air Force veteran who fell from grace while making a shady living as a defense contractor in Afghanistan. Despite a stormy past with billionaire businessman  Carson Welch (Bill Murray), Brian, a gifted private aerospace contractor, is recruited once again by the shrewd industrialist to oversee a game-changing, super-secret satellite project. Seems that Brian not only has the technical wherewithal to launch the risky project, but has a rapport with the Hawaiian natives to calm their fear and skepticism about it.

Cold and removed, Brian’s return to Hawaii after 13 years seems to soften him up, as he encounters an old flame (Rachel McAdams), who is now married with two kids; and a flaky but intelligent Air Force Captain, Allison Ng (Stone), who possesses the same enthusiasm for space that Brian lost years before.

For the sake of the story, Brian’s potential future with Allison eventually leads us to the film’s predictable third act, where Brian is forced to confront his past misgivings and make a decision that could save his soul but ultimately ruin his life. Coming far too late in the proceedings, it’s the only part of “Aloha” that seems to make any sense.

Cooper, coming off the blistering success of “American Sniper,” is likable in “Aloha,” but the problem is, he’s not supposed to be. Cooper’s natural charm and charisma overshadow Brian’s shifty demeanor, and it’s shame to say, but he was simply miscast. Starting off as an annoying character, Stone’s character softens enough by the end to become tolerable, even though her motivation in the film is horribly contrived.

In supporting roles, Murray is his usual great self as Carson, and Alec Baldwin is a hoot as a hot-headed Air Force general. McAdams’ character is more or less a functional role, which spins off into a subplot involving her dejected husband (John Krasinski), who becomes jealous of Brian.

Ultimately, the pitfalls of “Aloha” fall squarely on the shoulders of Crowe, who seems to have peaked with his brilliant autobiographical 70s music tale “Almost Famous.” With “Aloha,” it just feels that he’s desperately trying too hard to tell a unique story, yet he never quite gets his arms around the sprawling narrative tight enough to rein everything in. There are mere flickers of Crowe’s brilliance in “Aloha,” but nothing near to “Almost Famous” or his memorable sports agent movie “Jerry Maguire.” For all the talent “Aloha” has in front of and behind the camera, the film is hardly a movie fan’s paradise.

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.

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