Creed is a winner. That’s my appraisal of the film, not a spoiler.

Michael B. Jordan, as Adonis Creed, son of Apollo Creed (from early Rocky movies), has a ton of charisma, looks and acting chops. But the reason Creed goes from good to great is Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa.

Apollo Creed’s widow Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), who is not his mother, rescues a young Adonis from juvenile detention in L.A. and raises him. When he is an adult, he ditches his office job to go to Philly and train with his dad’s opponent.

Rocky is running an Italian restaurant called Adrian’s. With just a bit of persuasion, he agrees to train Adonis, who moves into Rocky’s spare bedroom. Part of his regimen includes chasing chickens in Rocky’s backyard. (Will chicken chasing become a new workout element among Americans who are into fitness?)

Adonis does not want to be tagged as Apollo’s son, so he goes by an alias, but they call him Hollywood. As he trains, Adonis falls for Bianca (Tessa Thompson), a nightclub singer with a hearing loss. In fact, they meet when Adonis pounds on her door asking her to turn down her music.

Creed, who had fought several bouts in Tijuana before heading east, quickly gets a match with the son of the guy who runs Rocky’s old gym. After his performance in that fight, word slips out that his is the son of Apollo. Which leads to his getting booked for a championship fight in Britain versus “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew). That fight is the film’s centerpiece.

Director Ryan Coogler captures the feel of Philadelphia with lots of street scenes and… a visit to Max’s for cheesesteaks! The obligatory climb up the Art Museum steps completes the circle back to the first Rocky.

Creed’s fight sequences are frighteningly good, especially those scenes shot from a camera positioned inside the ring. The Conlan fight is particularly brutal. In reality, such a fight with damaged boxers would possibly be stopped.

The Creed soundtrack teases with slight allusions to the melody and brassy feel of the famous Rocky theme before finally that song is heard.

The back-in-the-day Rocky Balboa was a bit of an unsophisticated galoot. The 2015 Rocky has accumulated some wisdom along the way. The new Rocky is just as likable as the old Rocky, just for different reasons. There’s even been a bit of Oscar buzz for Stallone!

I hesitate to use the expression “feel good movie of the year,” but Creed will leave you with a smile on your face. And it leaves the door open for sequels, which are sure to come.

The Good Dinosaur


Pixar’s winning streak continues! The Good Dinosaur is loaded with cute. It will make kids happy and parents can love it, too.

TGD asks: “What if the asteroids that many claim decimated the earth’s dino population millions of year ago… had missed?” Dinosaurs would have co-existed with early man.

The plant-eating dinosaur family in the story features parents voiced by Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand. Of their three offspring, Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) is the runt of the litter. He’s the movie’s central character.

Arlo catches a “critter” in the family’s silo, rustling food. The critter is a small human boy. Arlo and the boy fall into the river and are swept away on a journey of adventure. They face a variety of challenges and peril, including from other animals, as they struggle to return home.

One ally they meet is a dino voiced by Sam Elliott who tells the pair a story about how he got a scar on his face from a battle with crocodiles.

Peter Sohn, who has been a part of the Pixar team for several movies, is the director. This is his first time directing a feature.

The landscapes of an unspoiled world where the story takes place recall parts of the western U.S. The thrilling soundtrack stirs memories of The Magnificent Seven theme and certain Aaron Copland compositions. The old cinematic trick of making pretty pictures with fireflies (as seen in Fantasia and Avatar) is employed beautifully here.

The Good Dinosaur lacks the adult appeal of last summer’s Pixar hit Inside Out. But for adults bringing kids and grandkids, TGD is solid entertainment that you will not find tedious.

The Pixar short that precedes TGD is a trippy thing involving, interestingly, Eastern religion—not the normal subject matter for animated entertainment.





Not every Catholic priest in Boston is a child molester. But in a true story from just a few years ago, an unnerving number of Boston area priests are exposed as molesters. The soon-to-be-awarded film Spotlight tells the compelling story of newspaper staffers and their effort in the early 2000s to get the story about what had been kept secret.

The Boston Globe’s Spotlight investigative team works together to uncover just how many priests are involved and how the diocese covered up the scandal. The team consists of real-life reporters played by Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian D’Arcy James.

Their managers at the paper are newly arrived editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) and publisher Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery). The connection between Spotlight and the 70s classic All The President’s Men is more than just major papers breaking huge stories: the editor of the Post in the 70s was Ben Bradlee, played by Jason Robards in the film.

Baron is eager for the Spotlight team to cover the scandal. It is his guidance that directs them to focus on the church’s complicity more than on the individual clergymen. As it becomes clearer that the church made settlements with victims and families and then reassigned many of the priests to new posts, the effort intensifies.

The team pursues a multitude of leads. Attorneys who know what’s going on (Stanley Tucci and Billy Crudup) are relunctant to share details. The church’s leader Cardinal Law (Len Cariou) is outwardly friendly, but mum about settlements to victims and their families.

But the dogged journalists press on, confident that many of those with information will give it up. And they do. James’ character (real-life reporter Matt Carroll) enters large volumes of information into an computer file to establish a database of errant priests.

Some of the toughest scenes to watch are the recollections of those who were abused by priests, sharing their stories with the Spotlight crew. As we know from media reports locally and nationally over the past couple of decades, the scourge of priest abuse has been widespread.

Tom McCarthy, who directed and co-wrote (with Josh Singer) the script, manages to squeeze a complex, multi-layered story into just over two hours runtime. The story is detailed but clearly told. (Just as editing is a huge part of crafting a newspaper issue, so is editing vital to screenwriting and filmmaking.)

Look for a Best Picture nod for Spotlight and acting honors for several cast members. Ruffalo, Keaton and McAdams are getting significant awards buzz.

We sometimes forget that media outlets are primarily advertising delivery systems. Content is king, yes, but sponsors pay the bills. That’s why media sometimes pull their punches, especially when there’s negative news about a major advertiser.

Spotlight shows the Boston Globe and its leaders courageously taking on a major local institution, the Catholic Diocese of Boston. The church may not spend much money on ads but its influence was and still is mighty. That the paper chose to act in the interest of its area’s citizens is admirable and, in these days of constantly monitored earnings statements and stock prices, almost unbelievable.


Love is an amazing thing. It can bring a person out of his or her shell. It can make a person love life itself more than he or she imagined. In Brooklyn, the transformation Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) undergoes when she falls in love is inspiring and heartwarming.

Brooklyn is a classic. In 1950, young Eilis works in bakery in a small town in Ireland. She lives with her widowed mother (Jane Brennan)and her sister (Fiona Glascott). She takes the bold step of moving to America, specifically Brooklyn.

She moves into a boarding house run by the entertaining Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters). She gets a job as a department store clerk where her boss (Jessica Paré) gives encouragement, even though Eilis is shy and tentative with customers.

Her local priest (Jim Broadbent) helps with night school tuition. At a church dance she meets Tony (Emory Cohen) and falls in love. His is a working class Italian family. Her romance is not the only factor that brings her out of her shell, but it is the big one.

A tragedy at home sends her back to Ireland for a visit. While there, a friend introduces her to Jim (Domhnall Gleeson), a handsome single man from a well-to-do family. Now that life and love have opened her up to new possibilities, she is torn between two men and two countries.

Should she stay in Ireland or should she return to Brooklyn? Should she stay with Jim or return to Tony?

Brooklyn is a film that bears similarities to movies made in the early 50s era where it is set. This is the kind of movie for people who say, “Why don’t they make movies like they used to?” (Tip your grandparents about this one!) The script is by Nick Hornby from a novel by Colm Toibin. Director is John Crowley.

Saoirse Ronan is a certain Oscar nominee for best actress. She is blessed with an expressive face that shows a wide range of emotions. Her understated beauty and her acting skill make her perfect for this dream role. With a strong resumé already at age 21, her future appears limitless. See the film, enjoy her performance!



Trumbo is one of 2015’s best films. Its amazing story, its serious message and its sense of humor make it a “must see” for lovers of movies and movie history.

Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) was a real-life screenwriter who wrote scripts for numerous hit movies. He was also a Communist. Along with like-minded members of the movie community such as actor Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlberg) and writers Arlen Hurd (Louis CK) and Ian McLellan Hunter (Alan Tudyk), Trumbo went up against right-wingers like John Wayne (David James Elliott) and gossip queen Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) in Hollywood.

In one of the film’s memorable scenes, Hurd questions Trumbo about an apparent contradiction: he earns riches and enjoys the fruits of his labors while supporting the socialist philosophy of Communism. Another favorite scene features a confrontation between Trumbo and Wayne, in which Trumbo asks Wayne to let him remove his glasses first in case the Duke plans to punch him.

After World War II, Trumbo and other Hollywood figures are summoned to testify before Congress. Trumbo is held in contempt and incarcerated. Upon his return to L.A., because he is blacklisted, he has to work under assumed names. Much of that work is on “B-movies” for Frank King (John Goodman). Another favorite scene has King grabbing a baseball bat and menacing a right-winger who threatens to lead a boycott of King’s movies. Trumbo’s script for Roman Holiday (written under an alias) earned a screenwriting Oscar.

With love and support from his family, including wife Cleo (Diane Lane) and daughter Niki (Elle Fanning), Trumbo gradually edges back into the mainstream. Courageously, actor Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman) and director Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel) step up and hire Trumbo to script Spartacus.

Trumbo deals with a serious topic but has many good laughs. Cranston plays the role with sincerity but a bit of bemusement at the way his career careens. The director is Jay Roach who directed the hilarious Austin Powers and Fockers movies.The script is by John McNamara.

Trumbo concludes with a heartfelt speech at an awards ceremony that allows Dalton Trumbo to say how he feels about what happened to him. In postwar America, just three decades after Russia’s revolution, there was serious concern about the threat of Communism. It is easy to look back now and see how the response to Trumbo’s activism was an gross overreaction.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2


Panem’s long national nightmare is over. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 brings the saga to a resolution, at last. The film starts slowly, but soon things get real and things go boom.

The first three Hunger Games movies have seen the beginnings of the revolution against President Snow (Donald Sutherland). It’s time for Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), Finnick (Sam Claflin), Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and the others to lead the assault on the Capitol.

After dodging bullets from huge mounted machine guns, then escaping a rising black tide that threatens to drown the rebel advance squad, a challenge to Katniss’s leadership is thwarted. A decision to cross the Capitol underground leads to a violent encounter in the sewers with creepy creatures.

As the rebels close in on Snow’s HQ, the final battle feels like an anticlimax. After the surrender and her meeting with Snow, Katniss, prepares to publicly execute him with a well-targeted arrow. A coda that ties things up will make hardcore THG fans happy.

This final film shows again how derivative The Hunger Games saga is. Of course, the game itself is TV reality competition taken to a new, fatal level. The Panem palace guards look amazingly like the Empire’s storm troopers in the Star War films. The sewer creatures resemble Valdemort from the Harry Potter films. The depiction of a structure breaking up recalls similar scenes from Inception. A feline-costumed woman who provides momentary refuge to the rebels could’ve stepped out of the cast of Cats or an Anime convention.

The movies, overall, have been vastly entertaining, thanks to strong casting and brilliant costuming. Considering the billions this franchise has generated, it seems odd to say a final goodbye. Should we be surprised if, in five years maybe, someone floats a possible new movie idea with a story rooted in this universe? I will not be.

Secret In Their Eyes


Here’s a mystery that offers a large number of questions. What exactly happened? Who did it? How good is the evidence? Were Muslims involved? Who was that guy at the office picnic? Is the suspect really that big a Dodgers fan? Did someone spend 13 years looking at photos of inmates? Secret In Their Eyes throws out many questions, a handful of hints, but few solid answers until the final act.

Secret In Their Eyes is notable because it features Julia Roberts as a haggard, world-weary, older woman who dresses in drab attire. Audiences have seen many looks from Julia over the last quarter century, but this may be the least glamorous face she’s shown the world.

Roberts plays Jess, an investigator in the L.A. district attorney’s office. Her daughter is found dead in 2002 in a dumpster next door to a mosque. In the year after 9/11, law enforcers, including the D.A. (Alfred Molina) are obsessed with terror threats.

Her former colleague, Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) returns to L.A. in present day with a lead on the murder. He tries to convince the current D.A. Claire (Nicole Kidman) to let him pursue the man he suspects did the deed 13 years earlier. He claims to have pored over online photos of prisoners across America and found the one whose eyes match those of a man in a photo.

As plain jane-ish as Julia appears, Nicole is as gorgeous as she’s ever been, with a top-notch wardrobe. Both women, by the way, are 48 years old.

A problem with the film and its storytelling (Billy Ray is writer and director) is the transitions between 2015 and 2002. They are not always clearly demarcated. The film is adapted from a 2009 Argentinian film El Secreto De Sus Ojos, which is ranked #134 on IMDB’s list of the all-time Top 250 films.

Secret In Their Eyes has a simmering unrequited romance between Ray and Clare. He has the hots for her but she keeps him away, mentioning her fiancé back east.

A scene I loved was a drone flyover shot of Dodger Stadium showing purported game action, just before a scene where Ray and fellow investigator Bumpy (Dean Norris) pursue the alleged perp.

Despite flaws in pacing, choppy delivery of the narrative and a few misdirections, Secret In Their Eyes is a decent, if not great, well-acted crime mystery.

The 33

Another true story, thrillingly told. The 33 chronicles the 2010 Chilean mining disaster and the survival instincts of the 33 men who were underground for 69 days.

With limited food and water, in a stifling hot area where the men take refuge when the mine collapses, conflict ensues. Under the leadership of Mario Sepulvida (Antonio Banderas), supplies are rationed and sagging spirits are lifted. Among the 33 is an actor you may not have seen in a while, Lou Diamond Phillips.

The film’s actors speak English with Hispanic accents. This, presumably, is to make the film accessible to American audiences who prefer not to read subtitles. This works okay for the most part. (There are a handful of characters who speak in Español with English translations superimposed.)

We’re accustomed to hearing Banderas in that manner. But when Bob Gunton employs an accent, it sounds totally inauthentic. (Gunton, who is instantly recognizable as the warden in The Shawshank Redemption, plays the Chilean president.)

Immediately after the incident, family members set up camp right outside the mining area’s gates. Juliette Binoche is most outspoken to government and mine officials, urging them to accomplish the rescue.

Initial contact is made nearly three weeks into the ordeal. Food, water and other supplies are sent down via a narrow tube. But a wider passageway will need to be drilled to bring the 33 back home. Gabriel Byrne appears as a geologist who’s working with big machines to rescue the miners. He becomes frustrated with equipment shortcomings.

Two scenes in The 33 are particularly emotional. First, there’s a fantasy sequence with all the hungry men enjoying an imaginary feast. Second, footage of the actual 33 Chileans miners serves as an effective upbeat coda to their moving story.

For those of use whose work is mainly done at a keyboard and/or on a phone, The 33 serves as a reminder that many men and women work hard every day in dangerous conditions. While watching The 33, I thought of my dad who worked in a pipe factory and often came home with welding burns on his arms and legs.

The 33 honors the workers, their families and those who got the men out alive with a clearly-told story that reminds us just how tragic the event was.

Love The Coopers

Every family is dysfunctional to a degree, some more than others. The Coopers, Sam (John Goodman) and Charlotte (Diane Keaton), a couple whose 40-year marriage has lost its energy, have a family with issues galore. Charlotte wants one more happy family Christmas celebration before they split.

Love, The Coopers is like an edgier Hallmark Christmas movie, with cast members who are better known. Like a Hallmark movie, things generally work out. Like a Hallmark movie, there are few non-white faces. Unlike a Hallmark movie, a few impolite phrases are uttered and bodily functions draw attention. But don’t worry: LTC is safely PG-13.

Cooper offspring include Hank (Ed Helms) and Eleanor (Olivia Wilde). Hank’s marriage to Angie (Alex Borstein, best known as the voice of Lois Griffin on Family Guy) is breaking up. Among their three kids is son Charlie (Timothee Chalet) who is at that awkward age and is especially awkward at kissing.

Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) is a flirty type who picks up cute serviceman Joe (Jack Lacy) at the airport and drags him to the family’s Christmas Eve dinner as her pretend boyfriend. Their verbal jousting (over political and religious differences) provides some of the film’s highlights.

Emma (Marisa Tomei) is Charlotte’s younger sister with whom a sibling rivalry persists. She is busted for shoplifting at the mall. She does some amateur counseling from the back seat of the patrol car for the quiet cop (Anthony Mackie), who opens up about his sexuality.

Guests at the Christmas dinner table also include Charlotte and Emma’s dad Bucky (Alan Arkin) and his favorite diner waitress Ruby (Amanda Seyfried). Also, an addled aunt played by June Squibb is more cute than funny. Narration for the story is by Steve Martin.

Love, The Coopers—I added the comma to indicate that it refers to a Christmas card signature, not a command—is a not unpleasant holiday film. But it’s not as touching as The Family Stone (which also starred Keaton) or It’s A Wonderful Life, not as funny as Christmas Vacation or the Santa Clause movies. I’d put it right around Christmas With The Kranks level in the Christmas movie rankings.


After all the “inspired by true events” movies we’ve been getting lately, purely fictional escapism such as that provided by SPECTRE is welcome. This is a true fact.

Director Sam Mendes and the four guys who collaborated on the script have brought to the screen a film that includes all the things a James Bond fan expects from a 007 movie.

The James Bond movie checklist:

  • Peril for Bond (Daniel Craig) in opening scene. This time it’s a fight inside a copter, following an explosion.
  • Chase scenes: on foot, in cars, in cars and planes.
  • Discipline for Bond from a stern M. (Ralph Fiennes)
  • Flirtation between Bond and Moneypenny. (Naomie Harris)
  • Cool gadgets from the quirky Q. (Ben Whishaw)
  • Attractive Bond “girls.” (Monica Belluci—the oldest Bond girl ever, looking gorgeous at 50. Also Léa Seydoux of Blue Is The Warmest Color fame).
  • Sex with gorgeous babes.
  • “Shaken not stirred.”
  • Exotic locations: Mexico City, Rome, Austria, Morocco, London.
  • Generous amounts of gunplay.
  • A timer, counting down to an possible explosion.
  • A generous number of fiery crashes and explosions.
  • Painful torture and/or death.
  • Outrageous architecture.
  • An eccentric villain. (Christoph Waltz.)
  • A memorable title song. Writing’s On The Wall by Sam Smith.

It’s all there. The movie may be a bit long for some at two-and-a-half hours. For me, it was time well spent.

In case you’re wondering, it’s not quite as good as 2012’s Skyfall. Few Bond films are. Be happy that you have this (supposedly) final movie from Daniel Craig as Bond and enjoy SPECTRE for what it is—a solid film with all those Bond things we’ve come to expect and embrace.