Movie Review: “The Choice”


There is but one plot template in the notebook (computer) of Nicholas Sparks.

Love. “Endless Love.” With an emphasis on the “endless” part.

The tales are set in Coastal Carolina. When they’re turned into movies, sometimes the actors take the trouble to learn to drawl.

There’s romance tinged with tragedy, the joy of new love with a hint of sadness.

And sand. There’s always sand. Unless some fool is trying to pass off the rocky shores of Maine for the sandy Outer Banks of N.C. in “Message in a Bottle.”

“The Choice” is another endless, nearly-sinless-in-the-sun Sparks melodrama, one that benefits from a couple of charming leads and some folksy, down home humor.

But that title frames it in tragedy. And that “choice” leaves this tepid romance mired in the maudlin.

Benjamin Walker (“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”) is Travis, a rich, dashing lady’s man, the “catch” of Wilmington/Wrightsville Beach, N.C. And that’s not just because he has the nicest fishing boat.

Fishing, like flirting, is a hobby. All he has to do is turn on that Carolina drawl and even the saltier, Daisy Duke-clad hotties melt. And clean up their language.

“You kiss your Mamma with that potty mouth?”

Teresa Palmer, of “Warm Bodies” and “Point Break,” is Gabby, who has the waterfront cottage next door to the showplace Travis calls home. She’s a resident at the local hospital whose studies and classical music listening are ruined by the party boy and his loud music.

“Could you BE any more obnoxious?”

“You have NO idea.”

That “meet cute” moment is chased by a canine love affair that puts them together in the same veterinary clinic. And that’s where the sparks — ahem — fly.

Travis is challenged by how challenging Gabby is. “There you go again, botherin’ me!”

Gabby’s choice? She’s engaged to Dr. Ryan (Tom Welling). She needs to choose between two suitors. Since the first scene in the movie, narrated by Travis, is set in a hospital, we can guess that’s not the only “choice” here.

Tom Wilkinson lends a light twinkle to Shep, veterinarian dad to Travis. The rest of the supporting cast takes its twinkling cues from him.

The script is sprinkled with dopey profundities — “A man with one chair likes to sit alone.” A barbecue invitation is strictly casual. Let’s “throw some read meat on the grill, tell a few lies.”

There’s waterfront dining, dinghy treks to a deserted island after dark, hard feelings and a lot of time passes. A LOT. An integrated church where the choir sings Joe Cocker’s favorite Dave Mason (Traffic) song, “Feelin’ Alright.”

All of which is such predictable pablum that “The Choice” outstays its welcome by a good half hour. As usual, the “love” part almost works. It’s the “endless” and drawn out finale that is makes us wish we’d chosen a better way to use our time.




MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content and some thematic issues

Cast: Teresa Palmer, Benjamin Walker, Tom Wilkinson, Tom Welling
Credits: Directed by Ross Katz, script by Bryan Sipe, based on the Nicholas Sparks. A Lionsgate release.

Running time: 1:51

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Movie Review: “Where to Invade Next”


Mistitled and meandering, it is Michael Moore’s worst film, his weakest whack at America: What Went Wrong?

“Where to Invade Next”? Where to begin?

Start with the premise. Leftist gadfly Moore lectures the Joint Chiefs of Staff (not in person) for America’s decades of failed military adventures, and will show us and them how it should be done.

“No more using drones as wedding invitations.”

He’ll put on his olive drab jacket, grab a flag, and invade countries that America should be stealing ideas from. He’ll interview Icelanders, Finns, Slovenians, Italians, French, German, Norwegians, Portuguese and Tunisians, find out how their education systems, school lunches, workers’ rights, prison systems and and political systems are better than those of the United States.

And he’ll claim them as ours, planting the flag as he makes his mission creep.

You can probably see flaws in that premise just from the listed nations –tiny, and with the exception of Tunisia, European. Monocultures with small populations. The interview subjects (even in Tunisia) make this his whitest film since “Bowling for Columbine.”

And the cherry picking. Visiting a Ducati motorcycle or high fashion factory to learn about “the Italian way”? Seriously? Ever driven an Italian car? Or tried to keep one running? Are they a model to emulate?

Portugal is Greece in waiting. Iceland has a population the size of Tampa. Tunisia is tiny and gutsy and launched The Arab Spring — thanks to a guy who set himself on fire. Not something Americans do.

The surface ideas here may be sound. Germany mandates that half the members of any company’s board of directors be factory workers, making stronger unions and less chance of a rapacious American “Winner Take All” economy. Finland scrapped traditional school methods for a no homework/no standardized test curriculum that has moved them to the top of the world’s “smartest student” charts. France and Italy tax their people to pay for generous social welfare — and divine school lunches — and everybody benefits, not just those country’s “one percent.”

Portugal legalizes all drugs and empties its prisons, Norway treats its prisoners with humor and humanity and an emphasis on rehabilitation — even the mass murderers. There is no “punishment” to it other that idyllic, comfy isolation.

But the movie plays as a diffuse, smirking rant, allowing us to envy Italians whose many weeks of paid vacation allow them to travel to Monte Carlo, Miami and Nairobi or marvel at those smart, friendly Nordic Finns and Norwegians.

Moore’s mission creep sets in when he takes a shot at getting back in Hillary Clinton’s good graces, noting how Iceland was the first country to elect a female president, how it’s safest bank is run by women and how the country was the only one to send misbehaving bankers to prison after the global financial collapse. Moore famously ditched Hillary for Obama in 2008, and promised reporters (including this one) to “make it up to her.”

The implication is clear. Part of America’s problem can be traced to testosterone. America is lagging in the equal rights/equal presidency department. And there’s just one woman of note running for president this time around.

Moore also visits the Berlin Wall, to remind us that in an age of seemingly intractable problems and unbroken American gridlock that change, when it happens, comes in a flash. And these “great ideas?” They are, to a one, American in origin, ideas the country got away from as it grew too fast and let profiteers take too much control of education, culture and its politics.

None of these quibbles would be worth debating as merits or demerits in a movie were it not for the fact that Moore’s latest film isn’t funny. Archival footage of Texas tinhorn Rick Perry’s insistence that “abstinence” in sex education works, despite being given overwhelming evidence that it  is failing in Texas, is almost the lone laugh in this too-long tirade.

Moore needed to stay on message, plan his trip to be more inclusive and maybe hire fresher writers to polish his political one-liners and zingers.

Wherever he decides to “Invade Next,” the invasion will be pointless if the zing is gone.





MPAA Rating: R for language, some violent images, drug use and brief graphic nudity

Cast: Michael Moore, Krista Kiuru, Vidgis Finnbogadottir
Credits: Written and directed by Michael Moore. An IMG release.

Running time: 1:50


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Movie Review: “Flail, Caesar!”

When the Coen Brothers miss, they miss with gusto. Images of Babe Ruth, swinging and collapsing in a heap from the effort come to mind.

And when they miss — think “Intolerable Cruelty” “Burn After Reading” –they often miss with George Clooney as their star.

Eddie Mannix would see the pattern. A famous studio “fixer,” the guy who kept troubled productions from collapsing and scandal-seeking stars out of the headlines, from the late ’20s to the edge of the ’50s, Eddie would have steered the studio clear of George after “Oh Brother!”

Josh Brolin plays a fictionalized Mannix trying to keep gay stars from being outed, a pregnant single startlet (Scarlett Johannsson) from giving birth while unmarried and a kidnapped superstar (Clooney) from wrecking a pricey “Tale of the Christ” swords and sandals epic, “Hail, Caesar!” that Eddie’s unseen boss has the studio’s prestige invested in.

Eddie’s with Capital Pictures (not MGM or “Metro”, where the real Mannix worked), and he is written and played by Brolin as a pious man whose constant trips to confession are mostly driven by “lying to my wife” about giving up cigarettes.

Eddie has much bigger secrets. His studio’s version of Esther Williams (Johannsson, her character named DeeAnna Moran) needs a husband, and a lot of help getting out of that mermaid tail in between aquatic ballets.

His boss orders him to put drawlin’, singin’ cowpoke Hobart “Hobie” Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich of “Stoker”) into the lead in a tuxedo’d drawing room drama, with fey sophisticate Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes, terrific) struggling to create a performance out of this blunder.

And then there’s the missing (another Coen kidnapping caper) Baird Whitlock, sort of a Tyrone Power type, playing a centurion who quakes in the presence of Jesus in “Hail, Caesar!” Eddie will have to call on all his cunning to keep this from the dueling twin sister gossip columnists (Tilda Swinton) and crack the case.

“It’s a long story. I’ll tell it to ya, sometime.”

Only he doesn’t. And that’s not the biggest shortcoming in this semi-silly stumble by the guys who gave us “The Man Who Wasn’t There” and “A Serious Man.” The movie is flatfooted in the extreme.

Random moments — such as a big, gay sailors dance number starring Channing Tatum, who absolutely kills — tickle and delight. Swinton is a stitch. Joel Coen’s wife, Oscar winner Frances McDormand, delights as a chain-smoking film editor (Weren’t they all?)

But a confessional/recruitment meeting by Hollywood’s communist screenwriters, where they admit they’ve been shoving messages about their version of “The Future” into scripts, flies in the face of the facts and of history. What, HUAC was right? Making them mostly Jewish archetypes and stereotypes doesn’t help. These scenes drag and grate.

Brolin and Clooney play their characters straight, when snappy and broad was called for. Brolin slaps sense into people, here and there. But Clooney doesn’t make his dopey movie star dopey enough. The picture’s pacing is flaccid. The Coens wanted it to be madcap, but couldn’t manage it.

And truth be told, the recreated “Golden Age of Hollywood” scenes of movies within the movie lack the luster, the “Dream Factory” polish. Some of that can be laid at the feet of  the digital “film” quality of today, and some has to do with the Coens not figuring out  how to stage things the way they were shot back then, not getting that long lost pursuit of perfection.

The star the Coens set up for a “breakout” here is Ehrenreich. And he’s a hoot. But the movie around him? An over-reaching whiff. The Coens’ paired batting average, it turns out, is no better than Woody Allen’s.


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some suggestive content and smoking

Cast: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johannsson, Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Alden Ehrenreich, Frances McDormand

Credits: Written and directed by Joen and Ethan Coen. A Universal release.

Running time: 1:46



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Movie Review: “Admiral”


2half-star6“Admiral” is a sturdy, handsomely realized bio-pic about the greatest hero in Dutch naval history. A 17th century period piece, it’s a timely reminder that “liberty” and European democracy weren’t wholly incubated in England. The folks who love their tulips and gave shelter to The Pilgrims, were pretty progressive, even then.

Back in the mid-17th century, the small united states that we now call The Netherlands were divided into monarchists — the Orangists — and Republicans, those who fiercely defended the country’s status as “the only Republic in Europe.”

Two things united them. They loved their trade. And they hated the English, their biggest trade competitors.

“The English begrudge us our freedom!”

With England scheming with assorted allies to put the Dutch in their place, only their navy could save them. And when their great admiral and nobleman, Maarten Tromp, dies in combat, a sailor who has risen through the ranks, Michiel de Ruyter, was their last best hope.

“This is the 17th century! Anything is possible!”

Frank Lammers is the burly, bearded sailing savant de Ruyters, a veteran blue water sailor, whaler, pirate hunter and wily skipper. The bluff and burly Lammers looks like the son of a beer porter, de Ruyter’s heritage. He tries to dodge command when it is offered him by the Republican prime minister, Johan de Witt (Barry Atmsa). But de Witt convinces him that he is beloved, that he doesn’t need to be of noble birth to be a hero and save the country.

Over the course of a decade or so, de Ruyter does just that, fighting off the English and French and whoever else allies with them, carrying out a daring raid on the Royal Navy at anchor just outside of London.

The large scale balletic battles of the age of sail have never been more realistically rendered onscreen, as director Roel Reine’s team mixes replica ships and digital backgrounds to showcase the maneuvering, splintery explosions and brutally personal nature of combat among “fighting captains.”

The film skates past de Ruyter’s defeats and spends more time on political intrigues, the brutal uprising against Republicanism, the temptations laid before Prince William (Egbert Jan Weeber) by the conniving and lecherous Charles II of England, played with vulpine menace by the great Charles Dance.

“Admiral,” in Dutch with English subtitles, is peppered with delightful trash talk. The Admiral is told to quake at the sight of the “unsinkable” English flagship — “All ships are unsinkable. Just until they sink.”

The English are just as confident — “Unbelievable. Those cheeseheads crave a beating!”

It’s a rather perfunctory and perfectly conventional bio-pic, aside from the rituals of combat and the splendid nautical detail. The history isn’t quite the Gospel truth or any more accurate than my summary of it.

But most of the cast, especially Lammer, Hauer and Dance, render this story in big, broad and sometimes brilliant strokes, playing characters big enough to dominate the epic events surrounding them. They make “Admiral” a rousing good tale from an age when ships of wood were sailed by men of iron.

MPAA Rating: unrated, graphic violence, nudity

Cast: Frank Lammers, Barry Atsma, Rutger Hauer, Charles Dance, Sanne Langelaar
Credits: Directed by Roel Reiné, script by Lars Boom,  Alex van Galen. An XLrator Media release.

Running time: 2:08

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Movie Review: “Jane Got a Gun”


A quartet of actors you’d never associate with Horse Operas don hats and boots and play at cowboys and gunslingers in “Jane Got a Gun,” a leaden Western with plenty of dead spots between shoot outs.

Natalie Portman has the title role, an 1870s New Mexico mother and wife whose past is about to catch up with her.

Joel Edgerton is the fiance who went off to fight in the Civil War only to return and find her gone, missing from the wagon train she and the daughter he never knew he’d fathered took West. A Missouri gal, she’s always wanted to “go to the Pacific. I wanna step my foot in where there’s no further to go.”

But somehow, when Dan the fiance finds her, she’s already married to Hammond (Noah Emmerich). And how that came to be and the role the cruel wagonmaster and gang leader Bishop (Ewen McGregor) played in it is and what this meandering movie’s many flashbacks are about, and why now, in the film’s fictive present, “Jane Got a Gun.”

Director Gavin O’Connor (“Miracle,” “Warrior”) gives us a dusty, dirty West where the ruthless are forever preying on the weak. Gunfights are brutal, short and finished with a head-shot.

Portman looks good in gloves, Nat-sized hat and dusty overcoat. But the ballerina in her always shines through. She’s a slight thing, but a good enough actress to suggest the inner steel it must have taken any woman to make her way West on her own.

“That girl you rode so far to see — I ain’t her any more.”

Edgerton (“Warrior,” “Black Mass”) looks at home on a horse, in beard and on a bender. Dan crawls into a bottle — for years — until Jane comes for his help. Her husband’s been shot and the men he stole her from, “Bishop’s Boys,” are coming. She needs a gunman.

McGregor, in black mustache and bowler, delivers a decent venality here, but Boyd Holbrook, playing his brother, makes a more sinister and sniveling (and cliched) impression.

The film’s greatest shortcoming — aside from an overdone, melodramatic and eye-rolling finale that is as ludicrous as anything hurled at us in the golden age of B-movie oaters — is pacing. Jane has bad men on the way. Her husband is bullet riddled and dying. And she’s just loping around, marking off her checklist of things to take care of before her reckoning with Bishop — drop the kid off, check, fetch gunman, check, buy dynamite, check.

The action is visceral and exciting, but everything between the shootouts, especially the mostly-insipid flashbacks (A pre-Civil War romantic hot air balloon ride in Missouri? Really?) just makes you impatient for Jane to get that gun and get on with it.

MPAA Rating: R for violence and some language

Cast: Natalie Portman, Ewen McGregor, Joel Adgerton, Noah Emmerich, Boyd Holbrook
Credits: Directed by Gavin O’Connor , script by Brian Duffield, Anthony Tambakis and Joel Edgerton. A Weinstein Co. release.

Running time: 1:38

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Movie Review: “Kung Fu Panda 3”


The opening “scene” of “Kung Fu Panda 3” has portly hero Po trotting up terrace after terrace of stairs, gasping for breath until he reaches a spot where he can jump onto the crescent moon and whip out his fishing pole.

It’s a cute, beautifully animated way of getting that Dreamworks Animation logo into the film. But it’s also an apt description of the cartoon that follows — winded, out of breath and out of ideas.

The animation here is a striking and colorful mimicry of Hong Kong “chop socky” (martial arts action) pictures. But the story is a bit of a retread and the spark and humor just aren’t there. Everybody from the voice cast is back — Jack Black as Po, Dustin Hoffman as his mentor, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan and David Cross “The Five” animal warriors of Po’s team.

Bringing in Oscar winner J.K. Simmons to voice the villain and Oscar nominee Bryan Cranston to play Po’s long, lost Panda pop is overkill, but works well enough. They just don’t have much that’s funny to say.

The new villain, a bull-being named Kai, is stealing the “chi” of all the great kung fu masters of China, entombing them in jade medallions which he can hurl use to round the surviving masters up.

Po discovers his long lost father (Cranston) and is sent off to a secret village of pandas to master his panda chi for the big fight ahead. His goose of a stepdad (James Wong) comes along as Po learns to tumble and roll down hills and master overeating with his fellow cuddly critters. He will have to train these tubbos to be his army to fight Kai when the time comes.

If you’re looking for some metaphor about obese and happy America being roused to action by Po’s self-help/child-affirmation aphorisms, you’re trying too hard. But so is the movie. This is a cartoon more bent on teaching than entertaining.

“Before the battle of the fist comes the battle of the mind.”

“If you only do what you can, you will never be more than you are now.”

“There is always something more to learn.”

The almost funny bits come from the villain’s lack of notoriety and infamy, despite Kai’s tireless self-promotion as “the Jade Slayer,” “Maker of Widows” and such.

But taken as a whole, “Kung Fu Panda 3” plays as a franchise out of ideas, out of jokes and more naked about its real place in the film firmament –as panda pandering to the enormous Chinese movie market.



MPAA Rating: Rated PG for martial arts action and some mild rude humor

Cast: The voices of Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Dustin Hoffman, Bryan Cranston, J.K. Simmons, James Hong
Credits: Directed by Alessandro Carloni, Jennifer Yuh, script by Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger. A Dreamworks/20th Century Fox release.

Running time: 1:35

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Box Office: “Panda 3” fattens up — $40 million opening

boxThird film in the franchise, shoved into January because of diminishing expectations (though reviews weren’t awful).

“Kung Fu Panda 3” is dining out on the lack of suitable kiddie fare at the box office, with families pouring $40 million into Dreamworks’ coffers by midnight Sunday, based on Friday’s robust post-blizzard numbers.

“The Revenant” is still earning over $11 million a weekend and looks to have in the $180 range ($137 now) in hand before the Academy Awards next month.

“The Finest Hours” is probably taking some of that manly heroics (and true story) audience from “Revenant,” but without Oscar buzz and without Leo. Chris Pine acquits himself well, critics know nothing of the sea, or manly pursuits, frankly). A middling $10 million opening for that one.

“Fifty Shades of Black” isn’t doing the Wayans’ bank accounts any favors. Just $6 million.

“Dirty Grandpa” is dying, “The Boy” fading to black.

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Movie Review: “The Boy”


Is it a spoiler to refer to the coda of thriller “The Boy” as the clumsiest cop out in recent horror history?

Never mind.

That goes for the movie as well, a tepid tale of elderly Brits, the Heelshires (Diana Hardcastle, Jim Norton) who hire, sight-unseen, a young American Greta (Laurent Cohan) as nanny to their little boy.

But “The Boy” is a life-size porcelain doll, which you know if you’ve seen the TV ads or the theatrical trailers. So our struggle is the same as Greta’s — to not laugh.

The boy’s name is Brahms, and yes, he loves “Brahms’ Lullaby.” Brahms has rules. Music “is to be played, loud.” He has to be dressed for bed and kissed good night. He must be read to “in a loud, clear voice.”

Never leave Brahms alone. Never cover his face. Never, ever spill water on him.

Oh wait, that’s “Gremlins.”

Greta, of course, is ready to ignore that long list of orders when the elderly couple leaves them alone together. And that’s when things turn weird.

Rupert Evans is Malcolm, the flirtatious grocer who tries to make time with Greta even as he wonders if she’s going off her rocker. Greta starts to believe Brahms is real.

It’s as if she followed Mr. Heelshire’s own trip down the rabbit hole of delusion.

“Little by little, and then, all at once.”

She believes!

The doll is creepy by design, but director William Brent Bell (“The Devil Inside”) can’t do much with him that surprises us, much less frightens. But the sound design — chilling noises, music, footsteps heard over our shoulders — works.

At least the lovely Ms. Cohan looks alarmed — wild-eyed, once or twice. But even she loses her fear of the doll. Long after we have.



MPAA Rating:PG-13 for violence and terror, and for some thematic material

Cast: Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans, Diana Hardcastle, Jim Norton
Credits: Directed by William Brent Bell, script by Stacey Menear . An STX release.

Running time: 1:37

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Movie Review: “The Finest Hours”



“The Finest Hours” is a ripping good seafaring yarn based on a famous shipwreck and the Coast Guardsmen who undertook the “suicide mission” to rescue the survivors.

It’s old fashioned in all the right ways, built on Chris Pine’s most understated performance, solid support from Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Eric Bana and Holliday Grainger, and filmed like a snowy, sepia-tinted  3-D postcard from the past.

In February of 1952, all that the shy, unassuming Bernie Webber wants out of life is to stay warm at his post — the Wellfleet, Massachusetts Coast Guard station — and get permission from his commanding officer to marry Miriam (Grainger).

That’s “just a formality,” and a dated one. But Webber is a “by the book” Guardsman. He doesn’t make a lot of eye contact, had to be nagged into dating Miriam. Truth be told, she had to propose to him. Bernie harbors guilt about a failed mission, frets about his worthiness as a man thanks to the accusing looks the locals give him.

“I don’t want to disappoint nobody.”

But a Nor’Easter has blown in, and the tanker Pendleton is in trouble. Casey Affleck plays Ray Sybert, the sea dog/engineer who hears the hum of the new welds in the hull, and barely has time to predict the ship’s demise when it splits in two. The bow, with the bridge and the unseen captain who ignored warnings, goes down. The unpopular Sybert has to convince the surviving crew not to kill themselves by taking to lifeboats in a raging storm. They have to keep the stern afloat until somebody comes looking for them.

Considering that they have no radio, that visibility in a snow storm is limited and the nearest Coast Guard station has glitchy radar, that’s a long shot.

But they are discovered, and Commander Cluff (Eric Bana), a drawling Southerner whose men don’t think he knows local conditions well enough to be giving orders, sends Bernie and three other volunteers out to look for survivors.

The script (Oscar nominee Scott “The Fighter” Silver had a hand in it) builds up dissent in the station over “the suicide mission,” in the town where Bernie is a pariah and on the sinking tanker, where the crew debates the merits of prayer and “every man for himself.”

Director Craig Gillespie (“Lars and the Real Girl,” “Million Dollar Arm”), out of his depth here, helps his actors get across the fatalism of the doomed — working class professionals using the very limits of their skills to try and survive this murderous night.

“It’s the Coast Guard,” Bernie mutters. “They say you gotta go out. They don’t say you gotta come back.” Sounds like a man resigned to his fate, and in need of redemption.

The characters — remember, this is inspired by a true story — are ’50s movie “types” — the cynical old salt Guardsman (Ben Foster), assorted greenhorns, the plump, jolly ship’s cook (Abraham Benrubi) who sings (badly) “Sit down, you’re rocking the boat” to calm his messmates’ nerves.

The sprinklings of humor echo a different time, too. A young volunteer whose normal duty is on a lightship sees their boat and pleads, “Please tell me we’re taking that boat to a bigger boat.”

The effects are several digital generations above those of “Titanic” or “The Perfect Storm,” so “The Finest Hours” presents a stunningly realistic shipwreck, roiling seas and glorious underwater shots of the plunging and rolling 36 foot Coast Guard boat.

The Cape Cod accents come and go, and the actors needed to be reminded how cold their characters would have been — coatless in a blizzard, wrestling with machinery in freezing sea water. The melodramatic touches are as obvious as such moments always have been.

But “The Finest Hours” is an adventure drama with sea legs, a story of heroism steeped in period detail, played with sympathy and stoicism by people who respect such old fashioned virtues.



MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of peril

Cast: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Holliday Grainger, Casey Affleck, John Ortiz, Eric Bana
Credits: Directed by Craig Gillespie, script by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson. A Walt Disney release.

Running time: 1:57

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Movie Review: “Dirty Grandpa”


With all the sins one can lay at the feet of “Dirty Grandpa,” here’s one that won’t stick — false advertising.

It’s exactly what the title portrays it to be — “Grandpa” Robert DeNiro, as potty-mouthed, oversexed and politically incorrect as he’s ever been. So don’t go if you’re going to get offended by a foul-mouthed retiree indulging in a “Hangover” binge during Spring Break.

He isn’t very funny in that guise, and seeing Aubrey Plaza as a coed with Granddaddy Issues throwing herself at him with all the subtlety of a phone-sex operator isn’t quite as hilarious as seeing Plaza (she’s 31) cast, again, as a college student.

Zac Efron is along to provide the beefcake, a henpecked Atlanta lawyer driving grandpa to Daytona Beach in his fiance’s pink Mini Cooper  where the newly-widowed old man tries to score with loose women one-third his age. His long-suffering wife just died, and unknown to corporate lawyer Jason, he’s dead set on a bender.

Sex, sand, alcohol, and “amusing” encounters with a local souvenir shop/drug dealer named “Pam” (Jason Mantzoukas) ensue as they try to connect with a coed Jason knew in college (Zoey Deutch), the trashy/oversexed Plaza and their cliched gay BFF (Jeffrey Bower-Chapman).

These three are quick with a put-down, and when they aren’t, they let each other know about it.

“That was really late, but it still counts.”

“Oh? Like my period?”

We’ve already walked in on grandpa masturbating, so the bar’s set low and only dropping lower. Plaza’s coed is “half Cuban,” she cracks. “The BOTTOM half,” bending over to prove it.

Don’t let yourself get distracted with how a corporate lawyer pushing 30 could say “Shadia (Deutch) was my lab partner in photography class” and the hippy girl is somehow still in college questions.  What you’re supposed to be hunting for is laughs.

Besides, she’s attending The University of Florida. Makes perfect sense.

Jason is trying to drag this lecherous, lying drunk to Boca Raton while the old man calls him one homophobic (“lesbian”) frat boy slur (“vagina repellent”) after another and gets him into jam after jam, interrupting the future Jason’s dad (Dermot Mulroney in a thankless, embarrassing role) has planned for him.

This all takes place in locations that look very much like a pale Georgia imitation of Florida. You can see the skyline of Atlanta behind one outdoor scene. Characters mention using I-85 to transit the state (not in Florida). Yes, the Brit director, Dan Mazer, was Sacha Baron Cohen’s partner in comedy crime for years (the less talented half, judging by the continuity errors) and screenwriter John Phillips (he’s written “Bad Santa 2”) knows more about potty jokes than geography.

None of which would have mattered had DeNiro managed to make this vulgarian funny, had Efron not relied on nude or at least shirtless scenes for laughs, had Julianne Hough (as the Jewish/controlling fiance) been amusing, had the Karaoke scenes or beach body “flex” contest worked or had they not insisted on ending this with a dollop of “live the life you want:” sentiment.

That may be the grossest scene in the film, and considering the semen stain/jail rape/spiked drinks/gang fight with racial overtones stuff that’s preceded it, that’s saying something.


MPAA Rating:R for crude sexual content throughout, graphic nudity, and for language and drug use

Cast: Robert DeNiro, Zac Efron, Julianne Hough, Aubrey Plaza, Dermot Mulroney
Credits: Directed by Dan Mazer, script by John Phillips. A Lionsgate release.

Running time: 1:42

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