Larry Crowne

Swanner: Every summer you have one movie that comes out amongst the blockbusters that’s more of an adult film. Last year it was The Kids are All Right and this year it’s Larry Crowne. Directed and starring Tom Hanks, we have a little movie about a man in his 50’s that’s recently been divorced, has just lost his job and now he’s in community college to turn his life around. Hanks gives his usual likeable performance but what’s different here is that it feels like he wanted to not out shine his cast so he plays Larry a few notches down. His generosity really gives this talented cast the opportunity to dance around the Larry character creating a wonderful ensemble piece.

On the subject of the cast you have Julia Roberts, Bryan Cranston, Taraji P. Henson, Wilmer Valderrama, George Takei, Pam Grier and Cedric the Entertainer. If you look even deep there is a secondary cast of newbie’s that are fantastic but the real diamond in the rough is Gugu Mbatha-Raw who plays the charming Talia who becomes Larry’s Muse. This actress holds her own up against some very big stars and sometimes steals the scene right out from under their feet. Hanks also wrote the script with Nia Vardalos, the Oscar nominated writer of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and their collaboration is the sweet and funny heart of this film.

The film focuses on the failing economy but doesn’t wallow in Larry’s despair it’s looks to the future and makes the point it’s never to late to change your life for the better. In the last two months I’ve seen nothing but Animated films, drunken comedies, super heroes and even a big turd called The Tree of Life so that makes Larry Crowne all the more welcome. Is it Oscar worthy? That remains to be seen but it’s really nice to watch a movie with no explosions or car chases where there’s an actual script and a funny one at that. I’d recommend this film to anyone that’s looking for a nice adult comedy. Larry Crowne is a winner.


Transformers: Dark of The Moon

Swanner: It’s finally starting to feel like summer. The temperature is supposed to be 104 on the 4th of July, the smell of BBQ’s is always in the evening air and there’s a new Transformer movie is opening. Yes, director Michael Bay and the Autobots are back with a lot of big explosions and some terrific special effects to once again save the world.

Judd: This time around a defected Autobot, Sentinel Prime, is brought back from his shipwreck on the moon. His mission is to use the Decepticons to teleport the home planet Cybertron to Earth and then enslave the human race to rebuild it. The regular cast is back, less Megan “Toe-Thumbs” Fox, and has added Patrick Dempsey and Frances McDormand to the mix. I have to say, in terms of direction and visuals, this is the best Transformers of the three.

Swanner: I really had a good time. I think anyone that goes to a transformer movie expecting great art is probably in the wrong multiplex. This is what a summer popcorn movie is all about … it’s a big over the top special effect picture. You have cheesy dialog with a guy trying to save the damsel in distress while crap is flying everywhere. Michael Bay has taken his notes from the previous films to create a crisper more focused film that makes watching the action sequences so much easier to follow. I mean, I can’t tell the difference between the robots but at least now I can see there is a difference between them.

Judd: The humor is still juvenile, some scenes still drag on too long, there is still the slo-mo shot of the damsel looking poutily off into the distance, while her hair blows in the breeze created by the shit blowing up behind her. There is nothing new about this third one, but somehow it seemed a bit tighter. It’s almost as if the franchise has matured a bit. The robots aren’t peeing on things, none of them have giant clanging testicles. It’s also nice to see that not all the Autobots are GM machines. However, there were some BAD-ASS Suburban Decepticons kicking ass down the freeway. It was pretty awesome.

Swanner: It was also nice sitting in a theatre where the audience was getting into it. That’s what I love about summer movies. At one point a military guy is asking who will risk their lives to save the world and some audience members raised their hands. There was cheering and gasps and yes, that ridiculous shot of the “model” but that just plays in to why I liked this movie so much. Even at 2:35 I didn’t notice because I was having such a good time. If you’re not a Transformers fan…stay home and watch reruns of Sex and the City, If you are a fan … enjoy.

Judd: This is definitely a movie you want to see with a theatre crowed full of people. The whooping and hollering adds to the atmosphere. I think Bay redeems himself with this one, and I would recommend Transformers: Dark of the Moon to anyone who wants to see an action film with the effects, size, sound and scope all ratcheted up to 11.


Bad Teacher

Swanner: I’m really liking the way this summer is turning out. There hasn’t been too many horrible movies and for the most part there have been some really good ones. Last night we saw Bad Teacher and I’m happy to say the trend continues. Cameron Diaz plays Elizabeth Hasley, a teacher/gold-digger, who’s upcoming nuptials don’t pan out and Diaz is forced to return to her teaching job.

Judd: Rounding out the cast is Justin Timberlake, Jason Segel, Lucy Punch, Phyllis Smith and John Michael Higgins. I liked Bad Teacher, I wasn’t laughing until my sides hurt, but there were plenty funny moments that it’s worth seeing. I liked that the movie was an ensemble piece. Usually movies like this, with three big headliners, the supporting cast are either plot devices or blanks there only to provide the leads filler conversation. In Bad Teacher, the ensemble is just as important as the leads in the progress of the movie.

Swanner: I totally agree with you. I really liked the cast as a whole. We’re seeing a lot of raunchy comedies that happen to have women in the lead and that’s got Hollywood scratching their heads. Hollywood considers women as window dressing but this has to prove that female leads can open a major motion picture. They need to encourage more funny ladies to step up. They will still need a good script, so I’m sure they’ll mess that up by getting talented women and offer them nothing to say, but I still hope this opportunity goes the distance.

Judd: Another reason I liked Bad Teacher is that Elizabeth Hasley isn’t a nice woman, by all Hollywood standards she’s the bad guy, but she’s the hero of our story. She’s horrible to her coworkers and her students through out the whole movie and she never gets a comeuppance for it. In fact, she gets the guy in the end. It’s good to see bad prevail every once in awhile without some moral lesson at the end.

Swanner: I liked that aspect as well. I think that’s where Cameron Diaz shines. She makes this mean awful character likeable and the script shows us there are other people worse than she is which helps make her more appealing. I really liked the movie. It’s not a sidesplitting comedy like Bridesmaids but the movie is consistently funny. Really good performances from a great cast. I can’t wait to see it again.

Judd: I think it’s also great that even though the move was about a middle school and had children in the movie, it was still rated R. As you said earlier, it’s nice to see women do comedy, but it’s even better when it R rated. Maybe we’re seeing a renaissance in Hollywood. Maybe they’re realizing that not everything has to be PG-13 and grownups will go to movies without bringing along the whole family.


Cars 2

Swanner: Star race car, Lightning McQueen, and his pal Mater head overseas to compete in the World Grand Prix race. But the road to the championship becomes rocky as Mater gets caught up in an intriguing adventure of his own: international espionage. I lifted this description right from IMDb because I wanted something that didn’t sound mean before we get down and dirty with the review. Brian and I saw a Saturday morning screening of Cars 2 and frankly, I think we should be given plaques or something for sitting through what was obviously a movie for 7-years-olds.

Judd: There is a line in the movie Mater yells, “Everybody out! There’s a bomb in here!” I felt like he was talking directly to me. Undoubtedly the first Cars was Pixar’s first major disaster – and don’t quote me sales figures and statistics. A turd is a turd no matter how well is sells. Pixar then released a direct-to-disc follow up to Turds featuring the turdiest character of all, Mater. Apparently it sold well, so Pixar decided release Turds 2, chock full of Mater seeds. Don’t get me wrong, I love Pixar, but Turds 2 feels like a smug half-effort designed to cash in on loyal fans.

Swanner: I understand that the Cars franchise is meant for the little kids, but it’s hard to shake the idea that I have to miss a new Pixar movie. Maybe I’m being selfish, but I look forward to what they offer each year, seeing that most have made my annual top ten. John Lasseter and Brad Lewis direct and keep things moving. Screenwriter Ben Queen gives us a script that knows how to speak to kids, but the entire production is like kryptonite for adults. I don’t even know if parents can sit through it. This is how I felt with the Teletubbies.

Judd: Don’t make excuses. Pixar is like the old Muppet Show and even older Looney Toons. Their creations play at two different levels. The kids enjoy the silliness and “whimsy” while the adults enjoy the satire, emotion and humor that go over the kiddies’ heads. It’s the reason they’ve gotten the Oscar year after year. Turds 2 has none of that emotion and humor. Mater, voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, spouts ignorance and childish foolishness throughout the whole film. At one point he’s called out on his overwhelming stupidity by spy car Michael Cane, but Cane is dismissed as being snobbish and not seeing Mater for the loyal idiot-savant that he is.

Swanner: Damn, you are harsh but you make a good argument. It’s almost deceiving because, as I said, I look forward to my Pixar every year and now I have two Pixars I’ll never watch again. It’s sad because we’re actually seeing the other animation studios finally getting what makes Pixar so good and then they bring out this mess. Cars 2 is a disappointment from start to finish. I never felt the production was trying to entertain me because this movie wasn’t made for me. It felt like it was made just to re-merchandise a new generation. It just doesn’t seem like summer without a new Pixar classic…all I got was a turd.

Judd: It could be said that maybe I’m being overly harsh because I didn’t like the first Cars – but I didn’t really care for the first two Toy Stories, yet I think the Toy Story 3 comes in second only to Up in terms of story and direction. Cars 2 takes the worst of the original and exploits it for cheap humor and superficial story. As far as I’m concerned Nickelodeon’s Rango took the Pixar formula and stole the crown this year.

Judd: No Stars

The Green Lantern

Swanner: Summer is the time for super heroes to come flying in to your local theatres and this weeks entry is The Green Lantern. Ryan Reynolds stars as Hal Jordan, a test pilot that is chosen by a ring to be the newest green lantern. The Green Lanterns are a group of space sheriffs who keep peace in the Cosmos. When a lantern is killed the ring he wears searches for a replacement and thankfully it found Ryan Reynolds. Did I mention the suit is really cool?

Judd: I knew nothing about The Green Lantern going in, and I feel like I really don’t know much about him coming out. The movie opens with a voiceover about how this one Super Lantern imprisons the bad guy. The next thing you know, the Super Lantern is dead and the bad guy escapes. Reynolds gets the ring. Then they tell the same story again. Then Reynolds is battling the bad guy. That’s all that happens in the whole two hour movie.

Swanner: Now you’re just being silly. They introduced us to all the other Green Lanterns in the group. They made fun of the human race but Ryan Reynolds proves that humans are good and they look great in the outfit. Peter Sarsgaard plays Hector Hammond, a scientist who is infected with the evilness from Parallax (the bad guy) and is trying to destroy The Green Lantern, and Blake Lively plays Carol Ferris. The three leads are really good but Blake Lively keeps surprising me with how good she is in everything.

Judd: I think the thing that bothered me, or makes the movie feel a little empty is the lack of action. Most of the movie centers around Hal, Carol and Hector angsting over their individual issues. Hal lost his father in a plane crash, Hector will never live up to his father’s expectations, Carol loves Hal, but Hal is too immature. It was all very much something I would expect on the CW.

Swanner: The CW has some good shows. Have you ever watched Supernatural? It’s true there is a lot of story and yes, the love triangle is there. but I don’t think it was too over long and there was plenty of action for me. I don’t think you were as into the costume as I was…I found it very much the focus of my enjoyment of the film. You got to admit it was nice that they didn’t try to play off that no one would recognize him with the mask on. I thought it moved well and that there were plenty of laughs to keep things lively.

Judd: Were you focusing on the costume, or what is in the costume? More precisely, what was in the costume below the bellybutton and above the knees? Pervert. But I will agree that the e-costume was really cool. For those of you that don’t know, the suit was digitally painted on in post. I thought it might look cheesy, but it was surprisingly whizbang. Green Lantern is well-paced, but it lacks in action and the story is superficial. Between X-Men, the first Ironman, and Nolan’s Batman series, the bar for the comic book movie has been raised extremely high. I don’t feel that the Green Lantern made the grade.


Midnight In Paris

Judd: Once a year Wood Allen releases a movie, almost like clockwork. Some are great, some are downright horrible. This year’s release just so happens to be one of the good ones. Midnight in Paris stars Owen Wilson as Gil, a successful Hollywood screenwriter who wants to abandon it all to live in Paris and write something meaningful. And every night while his fiancée is with another couple, an early 1920’s Peugeot drives him away to another time where he socializes and seeks advice from Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemmingway, Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein and other 1920s artists. The movie stars Rachael McAdams as Inez, Gil’s shallow, materialistic fiancée, Michael Sheen as a pompous intellectual and Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein.

The writing for Midnight is Paris is really smart, as is most of Allen’s writing, but I don’t think the appeal for this movie will be very broad. This is very much an art house movie. I’ve learned over the years of critiquing movies that you can never underestimate the stupidity of your audience. While the characters Hemmingway, Zelda Fitzgerald and Salvador Dali are more or less broad caricatures of who we know these people to have been, I don’t think the average Wal-Mart shopper is going to know who they are or understand the humor behind Hemmingway’s constant brawling or Dali’s obsession with rhinoceroses.

The performances are all great. Wilson doesn’t really give more than he did in any of the Wes Anderson films, but it’s still nice to see him do something other than Marmaduke. Kathy Bates’ Gertrude Stein is excellent as is Alison Pill’s Zelda and Adrien Brody’s Dali. The art direction is wonderful, with beautiful narrow shots of street corners and small intimate places.

I liked Midnight in Paris and Tom would have liked it too. It was a light comedy with great performances and a well-written script. However, your general mouth-breather isn’t going to understand the references or the humor. But that’s OK, Owen Wilson and Larry the Cable Guy team up in this summer’s Cars 2. Yokels everywhere can breathe a Cheetos scented sigh of relief.


Super 8

Swanner: In the summer of 1975 my friends and I were in a summer school class on Filmmaking. In the new film Super 8 a group of kids are making a movie and are taking the summer to make it. Already they had me. Granted, this movie takes place in 1979 but at first notice this was me and my friends and I was 15 again. Super 8 is the new movie from JJ Abrams and producer Steven Spielberg about a group of kids who witness a train crash and unbeknownst to them … an escape … but what escaped?

Judd: You were the bossy fat kid in the movie, weren’t you? While the time period, topic, director and producer made Tom giddy with delight, it made me sick with dread. The initial teasers made the movie look like a creature feature, but a closer look at the official trailer I suspected that Super 8 was going to be Cloverfield meets E.T. And that’s exactly what we got – with a dash of Goonies for good measure. If only Anne Ramsey were still alive.

Swanner: It was everything I had hoped for. I was worried the kids were going to be too “kiddy” and the movie would come across as just a kids movie. Super 8 is a movie that should really please everyone … well, everyone that wants to see the movie. I know you don’t like these kind of films but you have to appreciate that the acting is good (which is always a risk with child actors) along with the script, direction and the wonderful production design. I also liked that the movie was never about just the creature but always focused of the human story over what most films would do, and that’s put your focus where your special effects are.

Judd: Yes, the acting was good and the story was chock full of Spielbergian humanity, if that’s what you go for. As far as JJ Abrams’ direction, it was typical of his style, of which I am not a fan. Action sequences were unbelievably over-the-top and almost painfully loud, and there was an abundance of his signature lens flares. He even had a lens flare at night in a cave! I will say while everyone was enraptured by the story, I was enraptured by the cars. There is nothing better than 70s Detroit steel and Super 8 showcases tons of it.

Swanner: So what Brian is saying is that Super 8 offers something for everyone. It’s a fun summer movie and a great showcase for 70’s American built autos. I couldn’t agree more. One other plus for Super 8 is that with the exception of Bridesmaids the only major summer movie so far that isn’t a sequel, remake, reboot or based on a comic book. It’s original and keeps the spirit of a great summer popcorn movie alive.

Judd: I would not recommend seeing Super 8 for the cars. An autophile can go to a museum for less money, less noise and less blinding lens flares. I wouldn’t necessarily call the movie all that “original” either. True, it’s not a sequel, but it is pretty much a composite of Spielberg’s Goonies and E.T. and Abram’s Cloverfield, as I mentioned. That being said, it was exactly what both of us were expecting, for better or worse.

Swanner: “Less money, less noise and less blinding lens flares” Okay Grandpa, I’ll make sure those neighborhood kids don’t ride their bikes across your lawn anymore.

Judd: Why, I oughta …! Yes, I’m shaking my first. Angrily.

Swanner: 1/2

X-Men: First Class

Swanner: Trying to reboot a franchise is a tough thing to do. This summer we saw it with Pirates of the Caribbean and Fast Five, both with great results. The latest reboot is X-Men: First Class. To freshen things up we now get a look at how it all begin. Where the mutants come from and how the school for mutants got started. Director Matthew Vaughn, along with screenwriters Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz and Jane Goldman came armed with a tight story and lots of action without losing any on the human story, or should I say the mutant story.

Judd: The X-Men franchise has always been about action with a subversive dose of civil rights, and this reboot follows the same formula. I worried that I was going to hate this movie, and with a 2 hour 10 minute runtime, I thought it was going to be endless torture, but I was pleasantly surprised. The new cast is excellent, and Kevin Bacon is a terrific villain. I’m not sure how well the movie follows the canon of the comic, but it was good to see the basis of Magneto and Dr. X’s “frenemy” – as the kids say – relationship.

Swanner: It always felt like the mutants could have been any minority group, although it flirts with the gay rights movement more than any other, but I’m not sure if that was part of the comics or something that came about with the films. I, too, was surprised at the quality. I didn’t know if I’d like the complete recasting of all the roles by younger actors but it works and it works well. It was also nice seeing what caused the frenemies to become who they are in present time. The film takes place in 1962 and revolves around the Cuban missile crisis.

Judd: Basically Bacon wants the US and USSR to start WW 3 so the mutants can take over. Speaking of 1962, this leads me to my only real complaint of the movie – the costuming sucked. While ’62 is a little early for the “Mod” look, the bad guys were the only ones dressed anywhere near the time period. All the good guys looked like they stepped right out of 2011. They could have had a lot of fun with the look of the movie, but it went nowhere.

Swanner: I noticed that as well. The art direction was right in line for the time but the costumes missed the mark. I really had fun with the film and the cast is a big part of it. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender play Professor X and Magneto but I found myself really watching Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique. I always liked Rebecca Romijn in the originals so it was nice seeing how she came to be Mystique and Lawrence really embodied the character well. I’m glad to see the X-Men back and I’m hoping this reboot will revive the franchise.

Judd: This movie is about X and Magneto, which makes it so fresh. However, secondary characters outside of Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult as The Beast, seem to play less than second fiddle. Hell, the bad guy mutants didn’t even have lines! I guess it gives the studios something to build the sequels on.

Swanner: And I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Swanner: ½