Machine Gun Preacher

Swanner: Last night Brian and I saw Machine Gun Preacher. It stars Gerard Butler and deals with a man who went from criminal to hero. At least that’s how they spin it in the trailer and film. The question I have is what is a hero? The definition is “a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities” so in this case I guess Sam Childers the man Butler plays is a hero but I had no love for this hero. He was a character I didn’t like or respect, good deeds or not.

Judd: A violent junkie finds The Lord, gets his life on track, builds a church for other hillbillies from Pennsylvania (as he refers to himself), goes to the Sudan and becomes a missionary. The movie has its heart in the right place, but the viewer is left to wonder if Sam Childers has his heart in the right place. He turns his back on his friends, sells everything his family has and berates his congregation for being sheep – all in the name of helping the needy children of the Sudan. Childers may be brave, but he’s hardly noble.

Swanner: If you look past the bad character and script (by newcomer Jason Keller) you have to talk about the bad film making and that lands on the shoulders of Marc Forster. You might be able to forgive the bad direction if Forster was a newcomer but this is the man that directed Finding Neverland and Quantum of Solace. It’s paced horribly and the cinematography is unforgivable. The only real plus in the movie is the acting. I didn’t like any of the characters for their ridiculous choices but the acting for what they are given was good.

Judd: I didn’t see Finding Neverland, but Quantum of Solace suffered from poor pacing as well. Machine Gun Preacher spins its wheels but never gets anywhere, and with a run time of just over two hours, the audience gets tired. Not to mention, the movie becomes repetitive. Childers saves a group of children, witnesses an atrocity, goes home to rant at his congregation, begs for money/sells something/yells at his family, goes back to Africa, rinse and repeat.

Swanner: There a very few movies that make me angry like this one did. Maybe I was channeling the rage of the main character or maybe I just hate wasting my time on awful, grueling films that may have their heart in the right spot but nothing more.

Judd: If the movie had been less repetitive and focused on the Childer’s motivations, it would have much better. At one point a medical missionary calls Childers a mercenary – and for awhile that’s what it looks like the character’s good intentions had deteriorated into, but after a game of soccer with the children all is well again. Addiction is a powerful thing and everyone knows someone who clings to those 12 Steps just a little too hard. Childers traded the needle for a bible and his family then traded his bible and family for an orphanage. Focusing on that conflict would have been compelling and more interesting to watch than what we were given.

Swanner: ½

Tucker & Dale vs Evil

Swanner: We’ve all seen the B-rate horror films where the Hillbillies terrorize the college students camping in the woods but what if the Hillbillies were the ones terrorized by the college students. That’s the premise of Tucker & Dale vs Evil. Tucker & Dale are just heading up to the hills for a weekend of fishing when they come across a group of young people who convince themselves that the boys are really the inbred cousins of Leatherface. This is a clever story with a very funny script.

Judd: Like most well done low-budget horror films, T & D is vastly better than anything churned out by Hollywood. First time writer/director Eli Craig created the characters and movie that he wanted, not something cobbled together by committee. Alan Tudyk (Transformers) and Tyler Labine (Sons of Tucson) are perfectly cast as our heros. Had there been a bigger budget I can guarantee we would have had to suffer through the unfunny antics of Jack Black and Danny McBride.

Swanner: What a horrible thought but you are correct. It would have been perfect vehicle for those two to mess up. There is a joy to the indie film. I really liked the way the script kept our two heroes in the dark while the paranoid idiot college students freak each other out with the stereotypical campfire stories. The students are lead by Chad, head douche bag, who’s goal is to take revenge on the Hillbillies that still haven’t done anything wrong. The secondary cast of characters are a bit shallow but then who needs insight on the killers … they’re crazy, right?

Judd: The other college kids where there to pad the body count, as in all horror films, so it’s a forgivable offense – hell, it’s not even an offense. The script is tongue-in-cheek funny, while the movie remains fairly bloody. The characters are a little cartoony, but the violence is not. It’s nice combination. And while it’s a simple one-joke movie, the cast and director keep it fresh for the entire 86 minute runtime.

Swanner: I loved the scene when Tucker is being attacked by hornets, he is holding a chainsaw which of course makes him look like Leatherface and one of the students thinks he’s coming after him. It’s made me rethink all those horror film … maybe they just caught those guys on a bad day. It was very bloody but the laughs were there. I just hope this movie finds an audience. This film gives me hope that there are more creative people out there with great ideas like this one.

Judd: For a genre that is so completely overwhelmed by the same old same old; especially of the low budget variety, Tucker & Dale vs Evil is a refreshing and well done film that nestles right in next to movies like Evil Dead II, Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead. I could see further exploits of Tucker & Dale like the old Abbot & Costello movies. If they happen, hopefully they keep their well done humor and low-budget whimsy.


What's Your Number

Swanner: Romantic Comedies have been big business this year but they have had a bit of a twist from past years. They are either rated R or they are a very raunchy pg-13. In the case of What’s Your Number? it’s a pretty raunchy R rated Romantic Comedy about a woman who is told by Marie Claire magazine that she’s had too many sexual partners. To counter this, she goes back to see if any of these past conquests are worthy of a second chance so she doesn’t increase her number.

Judd: What’s Your Number stars Anna Farris and Chris Evans, directed by Mark Mylod. Farris is an immensely talented actress whom I adore and Chris Evans is Chris Evans. Given that, and the fact that Chris Evans gives us plenty of skin and a furry chest, AND the script is a good one, Mylod still manages to make the film practically unwatchable with awful pacing and piss poor direction. Seriously, I cannot begin to describe the depths of awfulness Mylod reached with this film.

Swanner: I didn’t notice anything wrong with the movie. Okay, maybe they visited too many of her past lovers but the movie was still only 1:40. I really liked the script as well. The book 20 Times a Lady by Karyn Bosnak, and the script by Gabrielle Allan and Jennifer Crittenden gave the movie the feeling that women were really behind the film and it showed. There was lots of funny banter and the actors knew how to deliver their lines. Chris Evans did probably have about ten scenes of near nakedness in the film (which is always a good thing) and Anna Farris is good as always.

Judd: Of course you didn’t notice anything wrong; you have no credibility or standards when it comes to romcoms. Mylod almost completely overlooked Farris’ talent as a physical comedian. He treated the all dialogue as throwaway banter; either the jokes didn’t matter to him or he didn’t get the humor. Romcoms are usually over laden with subplots, and Number is no exception, but good directors flesh out what plots are important and what plots can be glossed over. Mylod gave the same half-assed attention to all the plots so, like the dialogue, it all felt disposable.

Swanner: We must have been watching two different movies. I was watching a fun, silly, romantic comedy with plenty of fun dialog and lovely things to look at while you saw a bitter lonely woman facing the end of her life alone. I get it. It hurts but you can make that change if you really want to…watching at least twenty showings of 27 Dresses would be a good start and then give this film another watch.

Judd: You are so sad. I critique a film objectively and you reduce it to a personal attack. There is nothing wrong with the characters and the script is good. However, Mylod takes what could have been good enough to be a June/July movie, and turned it into a late-September movie. His direction is textbook example of what not to do. Maybe he doesn’t understand the genre. Maybe he was only in it for a paycheck. Whatever his reasons, he ruined what could have been a perfectly good (for a romcom) film.



Judd: Joseph Gordon Levitt is a 27 year old afflicted with a rare form of spinal cancer that leaves its victims with a 50% chance of survival. Seth Rogan is his best friend, Anjelica Huston is his worrisome mother and Anna Kendrick is his therapist in 50/50, a movie that just might finally get the Academy to pay attention to the amazing talent that is Joseph Gordon Levitt.

Swanner: Screenwriter Will Reiser was the 27 year old afflicted with cancer and good friend Seth Rogan said, “Write a screenplay about it and I’ll produce it,” and there you have 50/50. I know that sounds a little too easy, of course you have to get indie favorite director Jonathon Levine (The Wackness), a really talented cast and you get one of the best movies of the year. Reiser wrote a really honest and emotional film that never gets too maudlin or melodramatic. Think of it like an update Terms of Endearment that speaks to this generation.

Judd: I don’t know about the melodramatic. When looking at the movie’s subplots and parts, there is a lot of heavy-handed things going on. Adam’s (Levitt) father has Alzheimer’s, his girlfriend is cheating on him, and one of his friends dies. That’s a whole lot of misery for a kid that’s already dealing with a potentially terminal cancer. I will agree, while viewing the film it doesn’t seem so overblown, but more cynical viewers might think it’s a bit too much.

Swanner: Maybe so, but it’s all handled very honestly and real. These kinds of films can very easily slip into the over-the-top “cancer story” and 50/50 never goes there. I’m really excited that Joseph Gordon Levitt is the star here. He’s one of the truly underrated actors in Hollywood and this should change a lot of peoples’ minds. Just because he came from TV doesn’t mean he can’t be a movie star. I think his time on 3rd Rock is probably why he’s as good as he is. Imagine working with John Lithgow, French Stewart and Jane Curtain for 6 years and not walking away with one hell of an education.

Judd: He learned everything he should do from John Lithgow and everything not to do from French Stewart! But let’s not forget young actress Anna Kendrick gives an equally fine performance. She started as Jessica in the Twilight movies then she quickly established herself as a someone to watch 2009’s Up in the Air, staunchly holding her own against George Clooney and Vera Farmiga. Here, she plays a 24 year old med student working on her dissertation and Adam is her third patient. She’s someone who wants to care, has the book smarts but lacks applicable knowledge, so she comes off awkward and nervous.

Swanner: The whole film was exceptional. I didn’t realize just how over the summer movies I was till I started seeing some the Fall films hitting the theatres. I think it’s the reason that The Help is doing so well. 50/50 should definitely find an audience. There are so many good reasons to see the film, but for me it was the beautifully restrained performances.



Swanner: After seeing the preview to Drive, Ryan Gosling’s new film, I was thinking I was going to get your standard action heist film … something like The Mechanic. I was wrong. What I actually got was a pretty slow and boring story of a stuntman by day and get away driver by night that doesn’t work enough to keep my attention.

Judd: When I saw the trailer I thought I was going to get something along the lines of a classic car chase film – like Bullitt or the original Gone in 60 Seconds – and I wasn’t half wrong. Instead of an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride, Drive is more like Vanishing Point, with Gosling taking the roll of the stoic and SILENT Kowalski. “Driver” (Gosling) gets caught up in his neighbor’s drama when her husband gets released from prison and has to rob a pawn shop to pay off some protection money. Of course the robbery goes wrong and Driver follows the clues to the top to make sure the neighbor lady and her son remain safe.

Swanner: I’ll start by saying that the acting was good. That being said, I really find fault in the script and the story. The screenwriter was Hossein Amini based on a novel written by James Sallis. I’m not sure how the book was paced, but script has a very Art House feel to it and after seeing what other scripts Amini has written (Wings of the Doves and Four Feathers), it all makes sense. There are a few scenes in the film that rock but they make up about 10% of the film. The rest is just sleepy time.

Judd: I agree that the performances were all great. Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman make great ambitious, small-time gangsters. Bryan Cranston is terrific, but underutilized. The car sequences were also taught and well done. While the opening sequence isn’t high-speed, it is very tense. The major chase sequence is fantastic, with Driver in a late-model 5.0 Mustang and the aggressor in a Chrysler 300C SRT-8. It reminded me very much of the Mustang/Charger chase in Bullitt.

Swanner: This is a great example of how the romantic storyline can screw up the movie. If he didn’t get involved with Carey Mulligan and child we might have had a good film. The ten minute scenes of them making stupid faces at each other during dinner or seeing how well Driver got a long with the kids did nothing for me or the pacing of this snail. I also have to mention the over the top violence. As much as I hated it, at least it woke me up.

Judd: We’ve been seeing a lot of movies lately where women ruin the story. Are we being misogynistic? Probably. At least in Vanishing Point the most memorable lady rode a motorcycle bare breasted and offered Kowalski a joint. She made no trouble. I’ll have to see Drive again to give it a fair review. I liked the story, acting, violence and car scenes but the lulls in between were a little hard to swallow. However, like Vanishing Point, I think the movie might be an acquired taste and have the potential to get better with repeated viewings.

Swanner: ½

A Dolphin's Tale/Abduction

Swanner: Here is one of our mesh-ups when Brian and I have to see different movies. Brian saw the new Taylor Lautner movie, while I saw the family film Dolphin’s Tale. I know you’re thinking Brian made out, but I believe in this case, I was the clear cut winner. The film follows a boy who discovers a hurt dolphin on the beach and later becomes part of the dolphin recovery team. This film felt very much like the films of the past … Old Yeller or Lassie, with bit of Marley and Me mixed in. As I mentioned, Brian got to see Taylor Lautner in his first leading role … can he open a movie?

Judd: There was a huge amount of hubbub that went into the screening I saw. They were simul-casting the red carpet event from LA to a limited number of theatres and I was at the Sacramento location. Lionsgate thinks this is going to be huge. And it probably will be, a PG-13 action movie starring the latest teen heartthrob – that’s why I went. Lautner plays Nathan, who’s life gets turned upside-down when he realizes his parents aren’t his parents, and he’s part of a vast FBI/CIA conspiracy.

Swanner: Sounds like The Bourne Identity or Hanna. Mine was really good. It had a great cast headed by Harry Connick Jr, Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman, but the story really revolves around the two 11 year olds Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff (Yes, I checked the spelling). They are charming and the heart of the film. The movie is based on a true story of Winter the Dolphin who ended up trapped in rope and crab traps which led to her loosing her tail and how, through prosthetics, she was able to swim again. I’m feeling verklempt again

Judd: During the red carpet event they kept calling it The Bourne Identity for a younger generation, but it was really more like Hanna. Anyway, the movie was definitely made for the ‘tween crowd. The violence was kept to a minimum, which is a shame because Lautner is a champion black belt; it would have been nice to see him land some serious punches. The plot was about as complicated as an episode of The Suite Life. Apparently tween-age girls can’t be trusted to follow a plot twist and need every little detail repeatedly spelled out.

Swanner: Charles Martin Smith, better know as Terry the Toad from American Graffiti, has finally found “that” project. It’s been a long time coming, but I think this is the film that will show that he’s a very capable director. Karen Janszen and Noam Dromi wrote the script but you can tell that Janszen was the lead here, because of her past scripts (A Walk to Remember, Free Willy 2 and Duma) deal with sick sea mammals and children trying to find themselves. The script is good even though there are times you think they might be milking the sentiment too much but I was in tears, so I’m probably not the best judge here.

Judd: Sounds like an overdose of schmaltz. Did Barry Manilow appear on the soundtrack? Another thing about Abduction is that the title is misleading. No one gets kidnapped and Lautner only takes off his shirt once. (Get it? AB-duction?) The real shame in the lack of skin is that there is nothing to distract you from Mr. Lautner’s horrible acting skills. You can literally see him think about everything he does on screen; there’s nothing natural about his performance.

Swanner: Manilow would have sent me over the edge, but no, it was never too schmaltz for me. I’m sure some will find it too over the top but I think it was balanced very well. I just loved the movie. It tore me up, and yes, I had trouble explaining anything about the film for hours after words without welling up…verklempt…and not being able to finish me sentence. It’s a crowd pleaser with its heart in the right place. By the way, Winter the Dolphin plays herself in the film so the performance is very powerful. This is the best family film I’ve seen in years and one of my favorite films of the year.

Judd: Abduction also features Alfred Molina and Sigourney Weaver as a draw for the parents taking their daughter/gay son, but they don’t do much. Weaver has 20 minutes of screen time. If you’re a Lautner fan, you’re going to see the movie regardless of what I say. If you’re on the fence about it, see something else. If Taylor insists on keeping his clothes on, he needs to spend a little more time with Uta Hagen (yes, I know she’s dead) and a little less time at the gym.

Dolphin’s Tale:
Abduction: ½


Judd: It’s 2001 and Tommy Tune, the Regional Manager of the Oakland Raiders, lost the Showcase Showdown to the Brooklyn Dodgers in the final game. As a result, The Raiders lose some of their best and high profile players, like Jason Gambino, to better paying leagues. Now Tommy has to rebuild his team on a shoestring budget. So, he turns to a Yale economics major to select players based on statistics to get the most bang for the Raiders’ buck.

Swanner: What kind of idiot are you? I know you were bored and you don’t like sports but mistaking Tommy Tune as a baseball player is just wrong. One of the great Broadway hoofers ever … Tony winner! Shame on you…do some research, you’ve embarrassed me and our double digit following. The movie is actually about Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) who is the General Manager of the Oakland A’s and how he and an economic graduate changed the way baseball was played forever … Tommy Tune ….

Judd: You make me laugh. Billy Bean. He’s not even a real person! He’s a character played by Rowan Atkinson and he wasn’t in the movie! I apologize that I don’t follow the sports, and I especially hate baseball. It’s the world’s most boring sport whose players are all steroid abusing crybabies. Forgive me that I found myself drifting during a movie about the trials and tribulations of spoiled, rich guys.

Swanner: Discounting this film because you don’t like baseball is so you. I liked the film a lot and it has a lot to do with the great script by two Oscar winners Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List) and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) based on Michael Lewis’s book by the same name. The writing is awesome and really smart. It makes Pitt and Jonah Hill look like they know what they are talking about. The whole feel of the film is topnotch. Bennett Miller is the director and he does a nice job making this movie hum.

Judd: That’s interesting that you mention Sorkin and The Social Network. Here’s a quote from that review: Who cares? The Social Network was about as interesting to me as Facebook. Maybe if the movie was about something important, I would have cared, but at it stands the movie was about over privileged college kids fucking each other over because of a website. Wake me when it’s done. Wow, so basically Sorkin has a hardon about poor, little rich boys who just can’t get ahead. Boo, hoo, hoo.

Swanner: Fine. This is really a terrific film with great performances. The writing is as i mentioned wonderful and Oscar worthy. Pitt and Jonah Hill are really stand outs as far a acting goes. This is a great story of how being smart and not being afraid of change can completely change the way things are done and for the better. I really liked this movie and, whether you like baseball or not, you’ll love this underdog story.

Judd: If you saw The Social Network, you’ve seen Moneyball. Though Brad Pitt’s “Billy Beane” (as you insist on calling him) isn’t nearly as deep, or irritating, a character as Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg. Both films are about one man shaking up the establishment using technology. However, I don’t think Moneyball will do as well The Social Network come awards season due to the fact that baseball isn’t a novelty like Facebook.

Swanner: ½
Judd: ½