The Muppets

Swanner: Jason Segel and Amy Adams star in the new film The Muppets in hopes that this reboot will bring these fuzzy puppets to the forefront. The storyline follow Gary and Walter, two brothers, one human (Segel) and the other his Muppety sibling. Walter and Gary have been fans of the Muppets for years, so when Gary takes his girlfriend Mary to Los Angeles they take Walter along and, of course, must visit the Muppet Studios. While on the tour of the studio Walter overhears Tex Richman say that he plans to level the studio and drill for oil. The only way to stop him is get the Muppets back together and have a fundraiser to save the studio.

Judd: I am a HUGE Muppets fan, and The Muppets takes the franchise back to it’s origins with the first film, The Muppet Movie. If that’s a good thing or a bad thing depends on who you ask. I enjoyed the film, but I think the weird and corny humor escaped the majority of our audience. They want their meta-humor to reference pop culture and Disney classics. They want Shrek. The Muppets shtick refers back to vaudeville and being humorously unfunny. I’m worried that modern audiences won’t get it.

Swanner: I’m worried about it too. I’m thinking that the 13 to 35 crowd isn’t going to get it and the studio will see it as a failure. I know that when the first musical number started i was afraid. Even though it was a very funny musical number i know how cruel kids can be. For me as a Muppet fan, i really enjoyed the movie. If you remember in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Jason Segel’s character was big into puppets. So when i read Segel and FSM director Nicholas Stoller wrote the screenplay things came clearer. Once you add in Flight of the Conchord’s James Bobin as Director and Bret McKenzie as songwriter you have one very hip movie.

Judd: Or in the case of The Muppets one pointedly unhip movie. While I liked the humor, where I think some will not, I will say the film does move a bit slow in parts; or rather, it feels very deliberately paced. So taking cornball humor with a slower-than-average pacing and I really think the movie is going to lose it for most people. And it’s funny, because during the movie Kermit and the gang are under constant assault for being old fashioned and out of touch.

Swanner: Maybe we’re approaching this film the wrong way. Maybe we shouldn’t worry about weather or not the youth of today will enjoy this or any movie. I really enjoyed The Muppets. I actually thought the songs were fun and the musical numbers were handled to be funny but still keeping their integrity. I think Segel and company did the best they could do at keeping the Muppets true and not trying to change it up to fit today’s video gamer mentality. Will it be a hit? I don’t know, but i liked it a lot and I’m glad the Muppets are back.

Judd: The Muppets is one of those movies where, as a critic, you have to have faith in your feeling toward a movie even if it may not jibe with popular opinion. Art House Hipster Douchebags do it all the time with movies like Tree of Life and Mary Magdalene Minneapolis Moline. They wear it as a badge of honor and use it to judge other people. So with that… I loved The Muppets. And if you don’t it’s because you didn’t get it and you’re obviously stupid.



Swanner: Based on the book by Brian Selznick, Hugo tells the story an orphan boy who works to repair an automaton that he thinks will give him a message from his father, but will actually change his life forever. Hugo is a lovely film that calls back to the adult fairytales like Lili or the Red Balloon. Director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter John Logan take the audience to 30’s Paris to a train station where all our characters work and live as Hugo hides in the walls watching life go on around him.

Judd: I don’t know what to think of Hugo because one of my fellow reviewers brought his semi-retarded wife with him and she distracted me throughout the whole movie. I hate her. She gasps, clucks, and verbally reacts to every joke and moment of tension on the screen. Not to mention it’s impossible for her to sit still. She’s constantly fidgeting. She’s like a 4 year old with Progeria. However, I will say that Hugo is shot in 3D and clocks in at a full 2 hours; my eyes were exhausted by the end of the movie.

Swanner: As good as the 3D was, my eyes were also bothering me. I think it’s because they were really having fun with the cinematography, and that made old tired eyes like ours hurt. This was one of the first 3D movies I’ve seen where they used it to its full potential. I liked the way they added characters to the movie that added to Hugo’s landscape but didn’t really take part in the storyline. They made him want for more in life while watching theirs going on around him.

Judd: I didn’t like the extra characters. For instance, Richard Griffiths and Frances de la Tour, two theatrical stage giants, played characters that barley spoke and didn’t add to the plot. Why were they there? There was plenty of material with Hugo being an orphan trying to fix the mechanical man and the discovery of why George Melies (Ben Kingsley) is such a prick.

Swanner: They represent the characters in our lives that we see everyday who have hidden stories that are just waiting to be told. I know, I sound like some indie nutjob but there is a magic to this movie. I did love the homage to silent cinema that plays out. You can tell this story meant a lot to Scorsese and Logan, and their love for the how this industry started. Films rarely come along that let adults feel the wonder and fantasy of being a child. Hugo lets us dream again of a happy ending.

Judd: Bah! Innocence, hope, happy endings. Stuff and nonsense. I would have liked to say that I enjoyed the homage to the silent era, but it reminded me too much of Michel Gondry, whom I cannot stand. This is one of those movies that, while everything is technically good, all the little things added up to something I found very irritating. The cast, the plot, the people around me. By the time it was over, I was on a rampage.

Swanner: Yes, I remember it well.


Swanner: ½

The Descendants

Swanner: From Alexander Payne, set in Hawaii, The Descendants is a sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic journey for Matt King (George Clooney) an indifferent husband and father of two girls, who is forced to re-examine his past and embrace his future when his wife suffers a boating accident off of Waikiki which leaves her in a coma. The event leads to a rapprochement with his young daughters while Matt wrestles with the discovery that his wife was having an affair. I know it sounds like a lot is going on but it’s very easy to follow along with this fractured family.

The real glue in all this is Clooney. His performance of Matt King comes with so much ease that you almost think his character must mirror the real Clooney. George Clooney and Shailene Woodley (who plays his 17 year old daughter Alexandra) are so good in this that their scenes together are breathtaking. It’s like watching two actors that have worked for years together. The rest of the cast is perfect with most of the roles being one or two scenes but all so memorable. Clooney’s other daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) and Alexandra’s boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause) round out the leads and add much of the comic relief that’s positioned to never let the movie become a tear fest.

Director Payne (who I’ve never been a fan of) sets the pace early and never lets the film go to over the top emotionally. He lets us feel what Clooney feels with quiet restraint and strength from his wife’s affair to the helplessness of trying to raise his daughters on his own. The script (by Payne and co-writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash from the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings) is beautifully written with humor and honestly that takes me back to how i felt watching 50/50 earlier this year. The film was made in Hawaii, so it’s also lovely to look. I liked the film so much that it makes it hard to find anything negative to say…so i won’t. The Descendant’s will make my top ten list with no problem but where it ultimately places in that top ten is yet to be seen. It’s one of the best films of the year and it just might be the best.


Breaking Dawn Part 1 [Contains spoilers]

Judd: They’re back! America’s favorite abstinent vampire, Edward, and his frumpy, brooding girlfriend Bella are here once again to teach us the lessons of taking the moral high ground. In the first three films we learned that saving it for marriage can lead to a very loving and fulfilling relationship even if the desire is so strong it gives him blue fangs. This time, in Twilight: Breaking Dawn (Part 1), we’re taught that abortion is WRONG, even if the fetus is killing you from the inside. Rosemary’s baby had nothing on this halfbreed demon!

Swanner: That’s right, Edward and Bella finally make it legal even though poor Jacob moons for his lost love. That’s the first 40 minutes. They have a lovely wedding with all our BFF’s from the early films showing for the ceremony. Then the couple heads to an island off of Rio where Edward finally gets to make the nasty. The next morning it looks like there must have been a pillow fight, and we know in the realm of Romantic movies that a pillow fight means that Edward and Bella are best girlfriends now. That takes 40 minutes as well …

Judd: I always knew Edward was a pillow biter. You forgot to mention that at least 15 minutes of each 40 minute act is filled with semi-acoustic music and brooding stares at something in the corner of the room. And poor Jacob. He can’t act his way out of a doghouse; he stinks up every scene he’s in. What’s worse is he’s clothed throughout most of the movie. Bella may be a torturous cocktease, but who can blame her if Jacob insists on keeping his shirt on? If he stayed naked and kept his mouth shut, he’d have a better chance. I know if I had a choice between Taylor Lautner’s mute body, and R-Pats’ greasy hair and British teeth, I know which one I would choose.

Swanner: Not to mention Edward lives in that great house in the woods and Jacob lives in a house with a tarp on the roof to keep out the rain. I’m all about comfort … I’ll deal with the bad teeth for heat. You’re so right about the music. I started to think it was a big music video to sell the soundtrack. Back to the story…While they are on the honeymoon Bella realizes she’s preggers. I thought that was impossible since Edward is technically dead, how would his sperm be alive? So the last 40 minutes was everyone standing around trying to figure out what Rosemary’s baby is going to look like and will it kill Bella … my fingers were crossed for the latter.

Judd: There was a story? And never mind his lack of living sperm, if there isn’t any blood flow how does he “rise to the occasion”? This is more than a case of the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. I wonder does she have to blow on it or rub it between her palms to warm it up first? So many unanswered questions!!! Anyway, while the Cullens are lamenting over the mongrel destroying Bella, Jacob decides to leave his wolf pack to start his own and join forces with the vampires to protect Bella. This obsession with a dead fish like Bella escapes me.

Swanner: The whole series escapes me. I never have seen the appeal past the shirtless wolf boys. If you’ve ever watched a soap opera where they take one day worth of a script and stretch it to two weeks, that’s how this felt. A wedding and a honeymoon should not take nearly an hour and a half to get through. There wasn’t any good violence, and please don’t tell me that awful CGI fight scene at the end was worth mentioning. Basically nothing happens. The wedding was for the fans…which I’m not. The honeymoon was for the fans…which I’m still not and when things finally start getting interesting we get a music montage and it’s over … kill me.

Swanner: ½
Judd: ½


Swanner: Every once in a while a movie comes along with a grand story and a huge budget. When director Tarsem Singh went to the producers and said he wanted to make a 300ish style film that would tell the story of Theseus, a mortal man chosen by Zeus to lead the fight against the ruthless King Hyperion they must have jumped for joy. They probably said he should find two people who have never written a screenplay before and get a Mickey Rourke to play the villian. Here’s 75 million dollars … now go make that movie!

Judd: Oh stop! I didn’t want to see Immortals because it looked like the sequel to 300 – lots of CGI and painted on abs. Plus big budget action films aren’t my style. Immortals, however, really surprised me. Why? Because huge, epic failures don’t happen very often and Immortals got everything wonderfully wrong. Only Uwe Boll or Paul Verhoeven could made something so delightfully horrible. Between the elaborate Vegas-style headdresses, the complete lack of direction for the actors, the questionable sense of space and distance and the modern dialogue, Immortals was a wonderful train wreck.

Swanner: I guess when you put it that way Immortals does have all the elements of a really good bad movie. Stephen Dorff 2011 pick-up lines and the women working with Theseus’s mother calling her a whore … that was pretty funny. I know you laughed out loud when that one guy was dressed like Liberace in a full sequined cape, it really was spectacular. Still the Gods won in the costume department. The costume designer was Eiko Ishioka who is a woman and not some leather queen with Elton John’s sensibilities. The script was pretty awful which we mentioned earlier and the acting was as bad as the script.

Judd: The movie is like Harryhausen meets Showgirls. It’s going to tank at the box office, for sure, but I really feel that it’s going to find a second life as a cult classic. It’s got plenty of skin for the guys and the girls. The violence is waaay over the top, during the end battle, there are literally 2 dozen decapitated heads flying off in every direction and blood was spurting all over the place. It was amazing. I’m trying to think of the last movie we saw that was so off the mark and hammy, and all I can think of is Black Dahlia.

Swanner: There are other great/bad movies but they are mostly made by the masters like John Waters, Brian De Palma, Boll and Verhoeven. It’s nice to see another director come to play. One great/bad movie you didn’t mention is The Sound of Thunder from director Peter Hyams, and looking at his filmography he can hang with the best with his hit and miss record. I agree that once the word gets out, DVD and cable will be its salvation. In closing, if you’re expecting to see 300 Part 2 you’ll be disappointed because all you’re really going to see is director Tarsem Singh’s number two.


Martha Marcy May Marlene

Swanner: Last night Brian and i had a dilemma, See Martha Marcy May Marlene which has good Oscar buzz or waste our time watching yet another bad Adam Sandler movie. We of course went with the cool indie film with the Oscar buzz. A young woman escapes from a cult and tries to regain her life while living with the guilt of what she’s done and the fear that the cult leader will hunt her down and kill her or worse…take here back. That’s what was promised in the film. Who wouldn’t want to see that movie?

Judd: Wow, that sounds like an excellent movie. But what about that title? Yuck! It’s shit. It’s pretentious and hard to remember… Guess what? So was the movie. Slowly paced and full of long, poorly framed shots taken in natural lighting (translation: you can’t see fuck), 4M is a long, tedious, boring movie about a girl coming unhinged that I wished would either go back to the cult or end up in a sanitarium.

Swanner: That pretty much says it all. I’m just writing this off as lazy filmmaking. There are two stories here. One at the cult and one after she escapes and hides out at her sisters house. Focusing on either would have been a better movie. She never tells her sister what happen to her. Maybe if we could have seen this unfold with her sister it would have carried me through. If they had focused on the cult and how terrible it was that might have worked, but frankly outside of the midnight rapings (that didn’t seem to bother any of the women) the cult wasn’t that scary.

Judd: People from Sundance are saying the movie is a character study of a young woman who is slowly coming undone. She didn’t know what she was headed for, and when we found what she was headed for, it was too late. Is it too late? Did she go too far? Did she lose the sun? Guess who knows? Not me or anyone else who saw the movie with us. There were several scenes where we’re supposed to be confused as to whether her cult is coming back for her or if it’s all in her imagination.

Swanner; I haven’t disliked a movie this much since Tree Of Life. At least this one does have a story — even though it’s light on substance — but this is why I’m always to hesitant on indie movies. They take a new director like Sean Durkin who has an idea for a movie, give him a buck fifty and some actors and… Tada!!! Another tired ass Indy piece of crap. I’m hearing Oscar buzz for lead actress Elizabeth Olsen who did nothing for me and John Hawkes as the cult leader but he was much scarier in Winter Bone which was a much better Indie movie… I should have seen Jack and Jill.

Judd: Movies like Martha Marcy May Marlene are what give indie films a bad name. It’s everything wrong with a stereotypical “Art House” movie. I like indie films, and when I tell people that, they think I’m talking about stink bombs like this. I was genuinely looking forward to this movie, but now I wish we would have seen Jack and Jill, too.

Swanner: 1/2
Judd: 1/2

J. Edgar

Swanner: With Hollywood gearing up to Award Season, every week offers up a new contender. This week is J. Edgar. A big budget movie directed by Oscar winner Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby) with a script from Oscar winner Dustin Lance Black (Milk). With this kind of lineage J. Edgar enters the race in a top spot, but that’s just on anticipation. Brian and I saw J. Edgar last night and I was disappointed.

Judd: You forgot to mention Academy hold out Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover, Naomi Watts as his secretary Helen Gandy and Judi Dench as Hoover’s mother. The movie was tailor made for the little golden man. However, something was missing from the script – Conflict. The movie never addressed any real conflict. We were given little tastes of what the movie could have been. An overbearing religious mother; struggle in the early days of the bureau; his speculative relationship with a fellow male agent. Any or all of these conflicts could have been used to build a proper story and none of them go anywhere. J. Edgar is a 2 hour and 20 minute trailer.

Swanner: Hoover was not a very nice man so I was hoping they were going to give me some reason to like him, or at least make me understand why he was such a prick. I know they edited out some of his relationship with long term dinner partner Clay Tolson (Armie Hammer). I don’t know what the scenes were, but I had heard that they were worried it would offend the heartland audiences. Maybe those scenes would make it look like he felt compassion for someone and not such a monster. The movie centers around Hoover telling his life story to a biographer, only to find out later most of his story is an exaggeration. I know most of the movie is a lot of speculation but that’s because Hoover was in control of everyone’s secrets…including his own.

Judd: If you can’t find what makes the subject of your story tick, don’t tell the story. I’m sure Hoover was an intensely private man, especially given his propensity for blackmailing others; the last thing he wanted was payback. So there’s no information about the man, then tell us the story about the FBI. We’re introduced to the struggles he had gaining federal laws and jurisdiction, but Eastwood/Black handled every FBI advancement the same way. Hoover wants something; someone intercedes; Hoover calls him a name or threatens blackmail; Hoover gets what he wants. Cut to Hoover and Tolson buying a new suit.

Swanner: If you can’t tell the real story because of lack of information than just make a big scandalous film like Mommie Dearest. Have Hoover greeting Tolson at the door in full drag. Have them almost getting caught having sex in his office. Don’t dangle a bio pic and then say we really don’t know the truth. The saddest part of all this is that everyone did their part in this film. The production is beautiful and well acted but it’s missing a soul. I have to care about my protagonist or at least understand him. I got neither from J. Edgar.

Judd: Between Dustin Lance Black, Clint Eastwood and Leonardo DiCaprio, I was expecting the next Aviator. A movie examining the life of a very powerful man whose eccentricities had power over him. J Edgar is a movie that barely scratches the surface. Hoover would be disgusted with the lack of digging and fact finding – and he’d probably call Dustin Lance Black a Communist Sodomite and blackmail Eastwood. At least we learned that much.


The Skin I Live In

Judd: All critics have biases – favorite genres, pet directors – I think Tom and I are of the few that are genuinely honest about this well-known secret. That being said, Pedro Aldomovar is one of my favorite directors and when I got my screening for The Skin I Live In, I nearly wet myself.

Robert Legard (Antonio Banderas) is a brilliant plastic surgeon who concentrates on creating a synthetic skin that can withstand cuts, fire and even repel insects. He does this after his wife is badly burned in a car accident and can’t live with the deforming scars. Robert lives in seclusion with only his house keeper Marilia, and his human guinea pig Vera, whom he keeps locked up in her own room under constant surveillance seemingly for her own protection.

In recent reviews I’ve complained about movies that were either tarted up melodramas, Ides of March, or melodramas that were inexcusably boring, Anonymous. Aldomovar is the king of melodrama. His stories are all rich with sordid tales and outlandish situations, and he knows how to tell them to keep the audience intrigued. The Skin I Live In is probably the most sordid, twisted and shocking movie that Aldomovar has produced since Bad Education. He revels in the salaciousness of his characters, unabashedly pushes the limits and takes the story farther than one would ever expect.

As with Bad Education, the rich jewel tones that are the hallmark of Aldomovar films lend the movie a retro, almost Hitchcockian feel. Hitchcock only wishes he could be so twisted. The score also added to the noir thriller atmosphere. The Skin I Live In is one of the less chatty Aldomovar films; he is known for writing very verbose women – which is why Tom doesn’t particularly like reviewing his films. How can you review a movie when you’re too busy reading it?

I loved The Skin I Live In and I would recommend it to anyone who’s a Aldomovar fan. However, if you didn’t like Bad Education or found it too hard to follow; you’re going to be absolutely confounded by The Skin I Live In.


Tower Heist

Swanner: When I first saw the Tower Heist preview I was expecting the worst. I’m not a Ben Stiller fan and Eddie Murphy has always been hit or miss. Still, I thought the preview made the movie look too much like a Stiller/Murphy over the top comedy. Surprise surprise, Tower Heist is a tight little heist film with good action and just enough comedy. Director Brett Ratner keeps control of his stars and also keeps the film moving at a good pace.

Judd: Action and Control are the only reasons this movie is as tolerable as it is. Ben Stiller is the general manager of an ultra-luxury condo, The Tower. He asks the building’s most successful tenet, Alan Alda playing a Bernie Madoff type, to invest his employees’ pension money. When the money is lost and Stiller is fired for busting up Alda’s Ferrari, Stiller enlists the help of his neighborhood crook, Murphy, to break into The Tower and steal back his employees’ money.

Swanner: Besides the two leads it had a really good supporting cast. Matthew Broderick, Casey Affleck, Tea Leoni, Gabourey Sidibe and you mentioned Alan Alda. I think the strong cast helped prevent the leads from trying to make it funnier. Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson wrote the script but what’s funny is Griffin wrote the screenplay for Ocean’s Eleven which every one compares this to when they see it. I guess if you have a winning plot you change the location and do it again.

Judd: It comes back to control. Stiller and Murphy were toned way down and kept on a tight leash. There was never a scene where I felt they broke into undisciplined ad libbing. It’s never as funny as they think it is. The only real problem that I had with the movie is that there are a ton of scenes which are totally unrealistic, but as much as I hate to say it, I was enjoying the movie too much to care.

Swanner: I had a good time with this film as well. It’s just a fun movie. It’s one of the films you don’t really have to think about and probably shouldn’t while you’re watching. You’ll be talking about the mistakes in the car on the way home but still coming to you’re conclusion that it’s just too enjoyable to care. I’m telling people it’s like a remake of Ocean’s Eleven, so if you liked that, you’ll like this.

Judd: ½

A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas

Swanner: It’s the first week in November and we got to see our first Christmas movie. It wasn’t just any movie either,” it’s the latest offering from everyone’s newest pot smoking duo. No, not Cheech and Chong … I said “new!” Harold and Kumar first came to the big screen in 2004 when these two college students went looking for munchies at the White Castle. In 2008 they went to Guantanamo Bay and now they are smoking their way through Christmas. The first movie became a big hit once it went to home video, making the second one a hit on both screens.

Judd: A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas is unlike any holiday movie I’ve ever seen, but at the same time has all the hallmarks of a holiday movie. The stress over a perfect tree, Santa Claus, a great soundtrack of great holiday classics sung by Perry Como, Bing Crosby and Johnny Mathis. The movie also had a drug addicted toddler; a killer claymation snowman; and Neil Patrick Harris coming out of the closet. H&K 3D Xmas is an instant stoner holiday classic.

Swanner: It sure was fun. I did love all the child abuse that went on in the movie because it was all in good fun. I threw in that last part strictly to avoid any hate mail. It did have all the elements every good Holiday movie should have and they even went with an original story. The big problem with holiday movies is they always make one of three movies: It’s a Wonderful Life: A Christmas Carol; or they tell the Santa or some other Christmas character story. Harold and Kumar tell their own story.

Judd: The movie also makes excellent use of 3D – and usually when a critic says that, its because he’s fishing for something nice to say (I’m talking about you, Puss in Boots). Harold and Kumar was filmed in 3D, so it looks clean. Of course there are plenty of things being thrown at the audience, but the 3D was also used to add depth to every scene and my favorite effect is how it was used when the characters smoked. The smoke seemed to drift out into the audience. It was very cool.

Swanner: I had figured they would blow smoke in the audiences face and that was very affective in the film. The cast was great, with no one really trying to steal the scenes from the leads, but the drug addicted baby was hilarious and her father (Tomas Lennon) was really good as well. It’s always good to see Dangle from Reno 911 in something else funny. It was the perfect Christmas movie for anyone into non-traditional Christmas films. You don’t have to be high to see it but remember these guys can’t pass you the blunt so you’re on your own.

Judd: It’s going to become one of my holiday traditions, for sure. It’s hilarious for stoners and non-stoners alike. It’s Christmas-y, but not too Christmas-y. My only complaint is that I don’t have a 3D TV. Maybe Santa Claus will bring me one.

Swanner: ½
Judd: ½