Swanner: Dunkirk takes place in Dunkirk, France; where the Germans have pushed the British, the French, and their allies to the west coast. Like fish in a barrel, the British try to evacuate forces any way they can, including having civilian boaters cross the english channel to bring the boys home. Director/Writer Christopher Nolan has constructed a war drama, the likes of which just doesn’t seem to get made anymore. You have to go back to 1998’s Saving Private Ryan to find a film this ambitious.

In a world where war films are done in front of green screens, Nolan reenacts this world war two battle with the same realism we got in Private Ryan and Das Boot. He’s made it personal with flesh and blood characters put into terrifying situations. The scenes on the beach where soldiers stood single file, waiting for boats to carry them home are so tense as you wait for the German planes to run the beach and slaughter these young men. War films are tough when you have soldiers battling for their lives; but worse when they are gunned down just waiting for a ride home.

The filmmaking is extraordinary. The dynamic cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema is amazing; especially when showing the before mentioned beach as a gorgeous, yet haunting graveyard. Hans Zimmer’s score completely controls your emotions. The script doesn’t rely on a lot of dialogue but that doesn’t stop the actors from telling us their stories. The film doesn’t follow a linear storyline, so you need to pay attention. My only complaint would be that so many of the young actors looked similar, which made it harder to follow this non-linear story. Nolan should finally get that illusive nomination for Best Director at this years Oscars; with both Zimmer and Hoytema as front runners in their individual categories. The Oscar race has officially started.

Swanner: 4 stars

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets


Swanner: Valerian (Dane Dehaan) is a special operative who, with his partner Laureline, (Cara Delevingne) has been assigned to transfer a small creature to the city of Alpha. Once they reach their destination they begin to realize there are secrets that some powerful people want to remain secret, and are willing to risk all the lives in Alpha to do it.  Director/Writer Luc Besson creates a strange and beautiful world based on the graphic novels from creators Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres.

Going into the film, based on the preview, I knew I was in for a visual overdose. I mean that in a good way. I also knew based on Besson’s work, that I really had no idea what was going to happen. That’s one of the joys of Besson’s work. You never know if it’s going to be lighter like The 5th Element, suspenseful like Taken, or thought provoking like the underrated Lucy. The film does have a lighter side to it. It’s main characters feel very current, as if trying to appeal to a younger audience, by constantly bickering on whether the two should get marry when their world is in jeopardy. Rihanna, Clive Owen, Ethan Hawke, and Herbie Hancock make up the notable cast.

The story is actually quite good which talks about genocide, and what a bad guy will do to save his own ass. For a two hours and seventeen minutes film, it flew by. My biggest complaint was Delevingne’s performance. Half the time she was really good, and then other times she seemed very out of place. It might just be that Star Wars and Star Trek have jaded me, and anything that veers from the path seems wrong. Overall, the film is a fast paced summer popcorn movie fun and that it does very well.

Swanner: 2 ½ stars

Girls Trip


Swanner: Ryan Pierce (Regina Hall) is a successful self help writer who is is the key speaker at the Essence Festival in New Orleans. This is the perfect time to get her three lifelong friends together after a five year self imposed break. Will this sisterhood be able to mend after all these years? Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Tiffany Haddish make up the rest of the “Girls” in this very funny Girls Trip.

Judd: Girls Trip was written by Kenya Barris (Black-ish), Karen McCullah, (The House Bunny), Tracy Oliver (Barbershop: The Next Cut), and Erica Rivinoja (The Last Man on Earth). Outside of Kenya’s writing for the acclaimed Black-ish, the rest of the writing crew should have tipped me off for what I was about to see. Girls Trip had funny moments, but did not take the genre anywhere new and clumsily threw in some tired empowerment tropes for good measure.

Swanner: After the mediocre Rough Night from earlier this summer I wasn’t looking to lift up the genre, I wanted a funny, over the top, R rated comedy. That’s exactly what I got. Director Malcolm D. Lee who has become a prominent rom com director took this funny script and let his cast run with it. The other nice thing about Lee’s productions are that he always delivers a very attractive cast. A few funny moments? I spent two hours laughing my ass off.

Judd: I, too, was looking for a female comedy that hit the mark Rough Night missed, but Girls Trip wasn’t it. The conflict is projected within the first five minutes of the movie, and the characters are never built up past their two dimensional outline. We’ve got The Successful One with a Secret, The Wild One, The Single Mother Who Hasn’t Had Sex in Years, and The One Who’s Holding a Grudge Against the Successful One. The villain is a Ratchet Ho and Cheating Husband. The jester is The White Woman Who Says Awkward “Black” Things. I understand there is a formula to these kinds of movies, but if you don’t do something to set it apart, which Girls Trip did not, then it’s just one more to throw on the pile.

Swanner: I totally disagree with you on this one. Some of the characters may be familiar, but from the guy who complains that he wants a cut-loose R rated raunchy girl comedy and when he gets it, he now wants more depth of character? Two of the women urinate in the middle of Bourbon Street and you want a growth of the genre? It sounds like you don’t know what you want. I got everything I was hoping for, and more. I don’t think anyone that wants to see Girls Trip is going to leave disappointed.

Judd: So what you’re saying is that audience can’t have both? They have to be content with either decent characters or a raunchy comedy? Apparently then, you missed the whole message of the movie. You don’t have to settle for less, and when you strive for more, that’s when you really succeed. I’m glad you got the movie you wanted, but some of us know that we deserve better.

Swanner: 3 stars
Judd: 2 stars

The Big Sick


Swanner: Kumail is a Pakistani comic who is trying to make his way in the Chicago comedy scene. He comes from a strict Pakistani family who wants to arrange his marriage to a nice Pakistani girl. The problem is: he’s dating a white girl. Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, Emily V. Gordon, wrote the screenplay based on their own life where, after breaking up, she becomes very ill and Kumail needs to decide if his love for Emily is stronger than his love for his family’s heritage. 

Director Michael Showalter had the tough job of directing someone’s real life (While he stars as himself in the film) and then make a girl in a coma funny. Fortunately his main lead and his real wife gave him lots to work with, and a cast that delivers. The script, which is rich and funny, follows the sweet courtship of the two main characters till Emily (Zoe Kazan) finds out that their romance will never go forward since Kumail will never disappoint his family (interracial marriages make you dead to the family). Shortly after their break-up, Emily falls ill and is placed in a coma. That’s when her mother and father arrive, played brilliantly by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter.    

The rest of the film focuses on Kumail’s career in stand-up that’s crumbling beneath him while he takes care of Emily and her parents. Even though it’s a highly emotional film, it never turns into a Terms of Endearment, where you spend the last act in tears. It didn’t want to be that movie. It wanted to be it’s own film; and it succeeds over and over again.  There was so much to love about this film: the performances, the script and the direction are terrific. I loved that Kumail falls for Emily again through his growing attachment to her parents and how her parents show him how parents should behave. See this film, you’ll love it too.

Swanner: 3 1/2 stars