Alpha

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Swanner: Alpha tells the story of Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a young man who lives with his tribe in a northern land 20,000 years ago. On his first hunt with the males of the tribe, Keda loses a battle with a bison and is presumed dead. After his tribe returns home we find that Keda is alive and must find his way home. Along his journey he meets Alpha, a wolf that Keda fights off and then nurses back to health. Alpha then joins Keda on his travels becoming the first best friend to man.

Judd: Alpha is directed by Albert Hughes, who is best known for directing The Book of Eli, Menace II Society and Dead Presidents. Alpha is a much different type of movie than those, and I wonder if Hughes was up to the task. Smit-McPhee, meanwhile, has the resume of a young actor with the chops to take on block buster action movies (X-men franchise), as well as indie dramas (Let Me In, Slow West). Alpha, the titular dog, has no pedigree.

Swanner: I just need to know, were the animals real? I’ve been Life of Pi’d one too many times. I thought the animals were wonderful in the show but with todays technology I’m not sure there were animals. I also notice that not only was this a film about the very first dog companion but that Keda’s mother thought he was gay… or whatever it was called during that time period. “He leads with his heart, not with the spear” was the equivalent of todays “He’s a girl!”

Judd: “Sensitive” used to be the code word for gay, but these days boys are allowed to have emotions. Haven’t you watched enough teen angst movies to realize that by now? Though, I would gladly welcome Keda to our team. The movie, however, runs extremely slow, and left me wondering who it was made for. Young children will get bored, adults will get bored, and there isn’t enough action for teenage boys. Outside of tween-age girls and “sensitive” boys, I can’t see this Alpha appealing to the masses.

Swanner: It was a hard 97 minutes to sit through. This is a movie that tells the story of the first dog and I wasn’t in tears once. I should have been weeping through the last 20 minutes – but nothing. It really is a beautifully made film but there wasn’t any chemistry between Alpha and Keda. I also don’t understand how it takes the “men” a week to get to the hunt grounds but it takes Keda a season to get back? I guess there was a lot of going up hill on the way home. I wanted to like this more but I’m suggesting folks should wait for the home video release.

Judd: It was first time Keda left the village, so I can understand why it took so long to return (maybe not that long!), but there were other choices Keda made throughout the film that I thought were extremely foolish and didn’t make much sense. I completely agree that the chemistry between Alpha and Keda was nonexistent. A Boy and His Dog movie should make even stone-hearted misanthropes, like myself, shed a tear. If even you were left dry-eyed, this movie can only be considered a failure.

Swanner: 1 ½ stars
Judd: 1 star

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Crazy Rich Asians

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Swanner: Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is a professor at NYU and has a great boyfriend named Nick (Henry Golding). She and Nick have been dating for a while, so when Nick’s best friend is getting married, it’s no surprise that he’d take Rachel home to Singapore for the wedding. Little does Rachel know that Nick is actually Nick Young, who is not only one of Singapore’s hottest bachelors, but he’s also heir to one of the wealthiest families.

Crazy Rich Asians is a romantic comedy that’s maybe not the most original story, but offers us a look at a culture that doesn’t usually get the Hollywood treatment. It is a charming film about family tradition, and breaking through the class struggles that are everywhere.

Director Jon. M. Chu, with writers Peter Chiarelli, and Adele Lim, take on Kevin Kwan’s novel that followed these complicated characters who are steeped in tradition, but are willing to look the other way for the betterment of the family. Michelle Yeoh dominates the screen as she always does with her strength and elegance; and Awkwafina, Ken Jeong and Nico Santos steal every scene they’re in (and sometimes from each other). The film has a beautiful look, and is perfectly cast. I will tell you, there is a huge gasp at the end that had me in tears; and Singapore has never looked more inviting.

Swanner: 3 ½ stars

The Meg

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Swanner: After a sub gets trapped in the ocean lower than anyone has ever gone, Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) is brought in the save the day. Once all seems well, they realize they have released a megalodon, a 75 foot long dinosaur shark to the pacific ocean. Now the team has only hours before this creature reaches the tourist filled beaches for feeding.

Judd: Jon Turtletaub, known for National Treasure and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, directs while Rainn Wilson and Ruby Rose being the only other recognizable Hollywood names. The Meg should have been a fun, campy summer movie about a prehistoric shark, but instead takes  itself a little too seriously, and ends up toothless.

Swanner: I thought it wasn’t serious enough. After some of their friends were killed, the main characters are getting all giggly on each other. I know Bond had his tag lines, but I think they had Bruce Vilanch in the back coming up with new zingers to show how much fun were having. I did love the time with the shark but there just wasn’t enough of it, and when we did I wanted a more generous body count. 

Judd: You mean flirting with your hero after a dear friend just died isn’t humorous or appropriate? The movie is much too character driven for what amounts to a creature feature, and the characters aren’t worth focusing the audience’s attention. I can’t even remember their names, let alone anything that made them distinguishable from any other action movie. The jaded hero, the inexplicably single mother, the rich asshole, etc. It’s a shame that this movie wasn’t better – or worse, to dip into that so bad it’s good category.

Swanner: On that I will agree, they needed to go one way or another because this middle of the road “let’s make everyone happy” crap isn’t working. I just noticed how cookie cutter the characters were, they even had the smart mouthed kid for my entertainment. I feel so manipulated. All would have been forgiven with more blood and guts. 

Judd: More blood and guts, and a tongue in cheek approach without going full Sharknado, would have made this a fantastic summer popcorn movie. As it stand, it’s a forgettable summer throw away, that isn’t even worth renting.

Swanner: 2 stars
Judd: 1 star

Christopher Robin

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Swanner: Christopher Robin begins with a final picnic. It’s the last time Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) would spend his time in the Hundred Acre Wood with his friends Pooh and Piglet. Christopher is being sent to boarding school where he’ll no longer needs the ways of his childhood. We see him grow into a man and ultimately with a child of his own. As a grown up he has many obligations including his family and job but when he seems lost, Winnie the Pooh finds his way to Christopher Robin to remind him what really matters.

Judd: I liked Winnie the Pooh when I was a youngster, so I was looking forward to seeing what Disney would do to reintroduce one of their most popular characters. With director Marc Forester at the helm, whose resume is about as diverse as one can get, I wasn’t worried about the quality of the film. I was worried about what they would do with  the characters, and if Pooh’s gentle innocence could play to today’s mad-dash youth and their harried parents. Christopher Robin’s pace and story reminds us just how important it is to slow down and “do nothing” every now and then.

Swanner: I was concerned in the beginning as well because Pooh and friends weren’t big partiers, but more of the tea type. I didn’t follow Pooh as a child, so I just know what I know from being an adult. His stories were sweet but slow, after all, they were read to children. Foster did a lovely job with the Hundred Acre Wood. It was a simple place to watch a summer afternoon drift into evening, compared to the gray fast paced London. By the end of the film I wanted to find my own hundred acres and the childhood that slipped away from me. 

Judd: The film looks amazing with all the stuffed animals looking like well-loved, well-worn toys. I know it’s all CGI, of course, but there were moments were it looked like incredible stop-motion – like these were actual stuffed animals talking and moving about. I was truly amazed. The story, on the other hand, was a little by-the-books where an overworked adult learns the meaning of his family and true happiness.

Swanner: They were CGI? I love the movies! The story was a bit simple, but I think they wanted the relationships to matter more. I really hope people love this movie as much as I do. I still have my teddy bear from my childhood, so the idea of finding the boy I once was, seems like the perfect way to spend a summer day. 

Swanner: 4 stars
Judd: 3 stars