Girls Trip

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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

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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

Spider-Man: Homecoming

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Judd: Spider-Man has had some very bad luck in the theaters. Spider-Man: Homecoming introduces the third Spider-Man audiences have come to know in the past 15 years. Since 2002 Sony Pictures has tried to create a franchise for the ages, but was never able to sustain the interest. When the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was kicked off in 2008, Disney and Marvel finally found a way to make multiple related pictures that keep the audience excited for the next. Does Spider-Man: Homecoming keep that fire burning?

Jon Watts directs Spider-Man: Homecoming, and his resume is only Kevin Bacon’s Cop Car (2015), direct-to-video Clown (2014) and thirteen episodes of The Onion News Network sitcom. Writers include Jonathan Goldstein (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2); John Francis Daley (Cloudy with a Change of Meatballs 2); Jon Watts; Christopher Ford (Cop Car, Clown); Chris McKenna (Community); Erik Sommers (Drawn Together, American Dad).

This is a group of underdogs that encapsulate the struggle of our hero. Inexperienced and slightly bumbling, they, in the end, finally create a Spider-Man that the audiences will be eager to see on screen again. Part of that comes from Tom Holland, who finally gives us an age appropriate Spider-Man. His angst comes from not being taken seriously, and being treated as an inexperienced and slightly bumbling superhero. When our villain, wonderfully played by Michael Keaton, starts wreaking havoc, Peter Parker brings it to the attention of Tony Stark. When Tony tells him that The Vulture is too low level a criminal, Spider-Man takes matters into his own hand, against Tony’s advice to remain a “friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man.” Meanwhile, there is a girl at school that Peter has a crush on; can he find a way to impress her?

The movie picks up with Peter Parker already having his powers, which saves the audience from have to watch the radioactive spider bite for the hundredth time, and keeps the movie moving at a fast clip all the way up until the end. Tom Holland and Michael Keaton both give great performances, and Marisa Tomei’s May Parker seemed a little too young for the role, but that’s an admittedly petty complaint. The rest of the cast perfectly satisfactory performances, but no real standouts. Here’s hoping that the sequels can let our character grow, while still remaining an awkward, goofy teen — for as long as nature permits — without introducing unnecessary angst.

Judd: 3 stars

The Hero

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Sam Elliott plays Lee Hayden, a man who became a western movie star icon 40 years ago and now spends his days reminiscing about the old days. After a cancer diagnosis, Hayden finds himself trying to straighten out his life with a new romance (Laura Prepon), reconnecting with his estranged adult daughter (Krysten Ritter), and trying to find that one last great role. The Hero is directed by Brett Haley, who also wrote the script with Marc Basch.

 When you look at the storyline you can’t help but see the similarities in the career of Sam Elliott. He made a name for himself playing Rick in the film The Lifeguard, but it was the years he played cowboys on TV and in film that made him a star. The Sacketts, Shadow Riders, and Tombstone are just a handful of the films he’s made over the last 40 years. Elliott makes Lee Hayden becomes a much bigger character and Elliott’s performance validates both the actor and the role.

 In the film, Lee wins a lifetime achievement award and starts to wonder what’s become of his life since he’s winning an award for what he considers was only for the one good movie he ever made. Haley and Basch offers us a soul searching moment in the life of a hero who needs to leave the past and start to look forward. Nick Offerman and Katherine Ross also star, and as good as all the performances are, it’s Sam Elliott’s heartfelt moving performance that makes this a film to see.

 Swanner: 3 stars