Men in Black: International

As a child, Molly (Tessa Thompson) had a close encounter with an alien. When the MIB agents neuralized her parents, she kept her memories. From that point on her goal was to be a part of MIB. After exhausting all federal agencies as an adult she realized she needed to find MIB headquarters.  Once she did, she was offered an internship and a mission in the London office. Once in London she is teamed with Agent H (Chris Hemsworth), a seasoned veteran who has become a bit of a loose cannon. After the death of a royal prince in their care, the two have to find out who is behind the death of the prince before they are offered up to the royal family as a peace offering.

Probably sounds more complicated then it is but this is a way of rebooting the franchise with a new office and new agents. The only familiar face is agent O (Emma Thompson), who is still running the New York office. These films are usually funny action films with a big splash of special effects. Funny is the thing that’s missing here. Will Smith’s character was always the every-man that was still amazed at this crazy world of aliens he’d encounter where Molly, now agent M,  seems like she has seen it all. I’m not saying the film isn’t funny, it’s just not funny enough. 

Director F. Gary Gray has no problem with the action side of the film, which moves well, but the script gives the Molly character way too much confidence too early, to where she feels more like the Tommy Lee Jones character, and not a young woman seeing aliens from around the universe for the first time. She can still be confident and interject some wonder and humor. It sounds like a small problem but it’s really major. In the next sequel she’ll be fine, but here it’s what’s missing. Otherwise it’s story is good and the cast is great. One big stand out is Kumail Nanjiani who plays Pawny, and offers us what is the only consistently funny character. In closing, the film is still worth seeing on the big screen. The film is still fun it’s just not funny. Take these notes and apply them to the next film. 

Swanner 2 1/2 stars 

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Late Night

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Swanner: Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) is the only woman hosting in Late Night TV. She’s told by the head of the network (Amy Ryan) that since her ratings continue to decline, she’s going to be replaced. Trying to save her show, Katherine goes to her writers for help. Molly (Mindy Kaling) is a new hire that has just joined the all male writer’s staff. She’s never worked as a comedy writer, so everything she does is something completely different from the status quo. Nisha Ganatra directs, and Mindy Kaling has written this amazing script.

Kaling picked an interesting subject matter to raise her issues. Not only the lack of women in Late Night TV, but that Newbury is being replaced by a young man, or how there is little diversity in television, and the pay grade disparity. She packed this funny and important script with what seems like every issue affecting the audience that will come and see it.

All the performances are great in the film, but the stand out is Emma Thompson. She’s a flawed Queen of Late Night, and we need her to keep her throne, or maybe loose the opportunities for women in television for years to come.  The 60 year old actress stands tall, proving what I’ve always known, that Emma Thompson is a national treasure, even if she’s not a US citizen. Mindy did write herself a nice role, but never pulls from the lead. She’s the heart and conscious of the film.  A curvy Jiminy Cricket you might say. She will ultimately change everyone’s lives, but mostly Newbury’s.

I love this film and everything about it. It’s an important film because it puts a face to all the issues it brings up. In a time where women are standing up and taking their place at the table,  this Female directed, Female written film, staring two amazing Women defiantly owns it’s convictions. The Best Comedy and my Favorite film of the Year

Swanner: 4 stars

Dark Phoenix

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Swanner: In Dark Phoenix, during a rescue mission in space, Jean is nearly killed when she is hit by a mysterious cosmic force. Once back to earth, all is well till that cosmic force starts to control Jean and all her mutant powers. While this is happening to Jean an alien force who had been in pursuit of the cosmic power now has their sights on her. The X-Men are trying to keep Jean close, but the more powerful she gets, the more dangerous she becomes to the students at the academy. Now Charles and the X-Men must decide if Jean can be saved, or do they need sacrifice their friend to save the world.

Simon Kinberg, who has written the last few X-Men films, now writes and directs this film. He carries on the feel of the last films, but this time he’s taken the story-line from an earlier film which has me confused. The newer films were made to be prequels of the earlier films. Here, they have crossed that line. So, for those who haven’t seen the earlier films, you’ll be fine, but for those of us who have, this is no longer a prequel, but a remake. I’m not happy with this situation.

I’m really surprised that the stories can be changed to fit the writers’ whim because these are all written down in the comics. Honestly, I can’t tell you which is correct, but consistency is important for movie goers. I’ll be interested to see if I’m the only one bothered by this. As for the film, it looks good and is over all well made. The cast is filled with all-stars, including James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Evan Peters, and Jessica Chastain. Will this be the final X-Men film, as hinted? With Disney’s purchase of Fox, I wouldn’t count on it.

Swanner: 2 ½ stars

Rocketman

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Swanner: Rocketman follows the life and career of Elton John. If you’re thinking this is a bio picture, you’re almost right. This film is more of a fabulous musical based of the life and songs of Elton John. The film starts with Elton entering rehab dressed as the devil. He sits down and starts to share his story from when he was a young boy living in London in the 1950’s with a head-in-the-clouds mother and a bastard of a father,. When the family realizes he has musical talent they started lessons. At 11, he won a junior scholarship to the Royal Academy of the Music.

Judd: Rocketman stars Aaron Egerton (Elton John), Jamie Bell (Bernie Taupin), Bryce Dallas Howard (Elton’s mother Sheila), and Richard Madden (manager/lover John Reid) and is directed by relative newcomer Dexter Fletcher, with the screenplay by Lee Hall (Billy Elliot, War Horse, Victoria & Abdul). The film is a powerhouse of talent on screen and off, and Rocketman does not disappoint.

Swanner: People are going to immediately compare this to Bohemian Rhapsody since they are both dealing with 70’s rock stars. Bohemian Rhapsody was telling the story of Freddie Mercury and Queen in a very by-the-book bio pic way. Pretty straight forward. Rocketman plays with John’s songs by using them where they fit the situation, and not following a definitive timeline. It works because fans who demand the truth in a bio pic, Rocketman can do whatever works for the film.

Judd: I did like the way they kept certain time periods vague. We knew when it was the late 60s, the 70s, and when we moved into the 80s-early 90s. The script moves as a phenomenal pace, and the movie never slows down. Egerton’s performance must be given full credit for giving a relatable, human side to the self-indulgent, histrionic, tantrum-throwing, Elton John.

Swanner: Egerton is the film. All the other performances are great, but the film is about Elton John. Not one time in this film did I feel he wasn’t Elton John. This is a career making performance and the Oscar race has officially started. Don’t be surprised if this isn’t it’s own Broadway musical in a few years. Rocketman is a big screen must see.

Swanner: 4 stars
Judd: 4 stars

Ma

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Judd: Ma kicks things off like your typical teenage slasher flick. A group of kids, looking to party in a beat-up commercial van, asks strangers to buy them booze. The stranger that finally honors their request is Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer) who invites these rambunctious teens over to party in her basement. “Better safe than sorry,” is the excuse she uses to entice them over. Juliette Lewis, Diana Silvers, Missi Pyle, and Luke Evans round out the names in this Tate Taylor (The Help) directed thriller.

The thrill of Ma is seeing Octavia Spencer get creepy and murderous. Spencer has proven she can do no wrong, and seeing her stretch out a bit and have some fun is the draw. Unfortunately, the movie sticks with it’s party-hardy teenagers far too long. Sue Ann doesn’t go full psycho until the last thirty minutes of the movie – and it’s not like there weren’t opportunities before the 60 minute mark. The problem lies squarely on the shoulders of writer Scotty Landes, who’s best known for Workaholics, Adam Devine’s House Party, and Sacha Baron Cohen’s Who Is America. Television shows not exactly known for their thrills and chills. It is reason enough to believe that the script focuses on the partying teens because that’s what Landes is comfortable with. It’s too bad that he didn’t write in the humor that he’s capable of to give the far too numerous partying scenes a little flare – or at least something the break up the monotony before Sue Ann loses her shit.

The movie telegraphs Sue Ann’s reason for her murderous bent from the start, and that’s not a problem. There are plenty of characters in plenty other horror films motivated by the same thing, so there is no real letdown when we get to the root of her rage. However, there are other under-explained plot points that could have been used to fill out the story, had we not had to suffer through yet another scene with Ma gettin’ jiggy with the kiddos.

I can’t say that I hated Ma, but it certainly didn’t live up to my expectations. Had Spencer gotten more screen time being a threat instead of a nice, scatter-brained old lady who lets the townie teens party in her basement, the movie would have been something I could recommend. The movie’s titular character shouldn’t have been written as a secondary, especially when she’s played by Octavia Spencer.

Judd: 2 stars