Swanner: Men in Black 1 & 2 have made over a billion dollars combined in box office, so it’s no surprise that when the lead actors weren’t pulling in the big movies anymore that Men in Black 3 was destined to be made. Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith are back as “J” & “K” to save the world one more time. An alien criminal kills the young Agent K in 1969, altering the timeline, changing the Agency and placing the Earth in danger. Veteran Agent J must travel back in time to 1969 to before the murder and work with the young Agent K (Josh Brolin) to save him, the Agency, the Earth and humanity itself.

Judd: Having never seen the Men in Black films, and being the dedicated and professional critic I am, I watched the first two MiB films the day before seeing number three. The first movie was great. Goofy, but not childish, with some great alien characters. The second movie was terrible, with the humor going heavy on the Will Smith “He So Cray-zee” type humor and insufferable slapstick. In number three, the pendulum swings in the opposite direction, taking out almost all the humor and with it the great kooky alien creatures, leaving us with only the alien bad guy.

Swanner: I’ll admit that this one wasn’t as funny as the previous two but I still liked the script. It’s more sentimental (which Brian hates) and it has a lot of heart. The script was written by two veterans and two noob-ish writers. David Koepp and Jeff Nathanson both have been writing big movies for years where Etan Cohen and Michael Soccio are newer to the big box office types. Barry Sonnenfeld once again directs which helps keep the consistency in tact from the first two. As I mentioned earlier Josh Brolin plays a young Agent K, Emma Thompson plays Agent O and Michael Stuhlburg plays Boris the Animal. Stuhlburg plays the bad guy this time around and he might be a bit too mean for these movies.

Judd: Not only was the movie more sentimental and more serious, it was less entertaining. As you know, Tom, I fell asleep during the third act. I couldn’t fight to keep my eyes open any longer. And to tell the truth I had zoned out way before that. The last thing that I clearly remember is the Warhol party, everything after that is a vague haze. Wait … did I get neurolyzed?

Swanner: It was after 8 o’clock so you probably should have taken your Disco Nap before a big night out on the town. Your snoring was quite obvious. The film did have a different feel to it in the sense it was more serious but I never felt sleepy. I thought it was paced well and the action was continual. The real stand out was Josh Brolin. His young Tommy Lee Jones was on the spot perfect. Fans of the first time will certainly enjoy this film that brings everything back full circle.

Judd: Josh Brolin was great, but you can’t make a movie out of one actor’s impression of another. Others have tried, no one has succeeded. Number three is longer than the first two and without the humor to carry it along it, it feels slow and plodding. Will Smith is getting too old to play the sassy black dude to Jones’ stoic, straight man – which may be the reason for placing the movie in the past and breaking the formula. MiB 3 may resonate with fans, but everyone else is well-advised to avoid.

Judd: ½


Swanner: It seems that Hollywood is out of ideas. In the last year we’ve seen so many remakes and sequels, but now they are creating movies based on just about anything, like board games. Last year’s Real Steel was based on Rock’em, Sock’em Robots, and this year we get Battleship based on the Hasbro game… Battleship. The problem with these kinds of films is that there is no storyline developed around the game so one needs to be created. What the hell can you do with battleships? Aliens perhaps?

Judd: After making contact with an earth-identical planet in another solar system, aliens invade looking to… to…Well, it doesn’t matter what they want (because we’re never told what they want). What matters is they’re here and they’ve killed citizens. Because they’ve set up camp in the middle of the Pacific, it’s up to the US and Japanese Navy (but mostly the US, of course) to rid the world of this scourge. Directed by Peter Berg, starring Liam Neeson, Rihanna and others, Battleship was made to satisfy action fans and those who can’t possibly believe they’ve made a 2 hour movie out of a board game.

Swanner: Let’s face it, the movie was made for 12 year old boys that have $10 bucks to spend. Berg and the special effects guys have done a good job at keeping the action going and making it all feel real but the script … dear god the script. It was screenplay 101 and they obviously didn’t get an A in this class. Brothers Erich and Jon Hoeber (RED, Whiteout) give us as little as they can possibly give and still call it writing. All of the characters are shallow and the dialogue is juvenile and laughable. I love the way they throw in the vets to make it feel patriotic. Fortunately they are all charming enough to not let this silly script cheapen the legacy.

Judd: I like to think that a script this bad had to be done purposefully. Clichéd stock characters, trite and hammy dialogue, chest-swelling pride and fanatical patriotism – this over the top display has to have been done knowingly tongue-in-cheek. And that’s fine with me. It’s ridiculous enough to reference the board game by having the captain of the ship calling out coordinates to bomb an enemy he can’t see, to expand on that ridiculousness is the only way to make the movie work. Some critics are calling this a poor Michael Bay rip-off. I think its subversive satire. It has to be.

Swanner: What you’re saying makes sense, but I still see a movie for 12 year boys. It’s as much a Michael Bay rip off as anything coming out these days, so that just some lazy critics flapping their lips. I’ll admit you make a good argument, but the movie hits me at a level of too much silliness. Is there a place for this kind of silliness? Yes, it’s called a summer movie. When I was a kid I would have loved this movie and would be spending all my allowance on repeat viewings. So the inner-kid thought the movie was awesome where I thought it was good with reservations.

Judd: I’m a sucker for this type of cheesy goodness. It reminded me of one of my favorites, Flyboys. A movie that opened with the town sheriff nailing a foreclosure notice on the gate to the family ranch. Battleship is pure camp, whether it was planned that way or not, is immaterial. It took me a second to realize what I was seeing was fantastically awful, but once it sunk in, I was hooked. The script is terrible and the acting is worse. All I know is that it all came beautifully together as the grid was drawn and the captain of the ship started calling out “FOXTROT, TWO-FOUR!” “MISS, CAPTAIN!” ECHO, FIVE-SEVEN!” “IT’S A HIT, CAPTAIN!” Yes. It is a hit.

Swanner: 1/2

The Dictator

Swanner: Sacha Baron Cohen wrote and stars in a comedy where he plays Aladeen, the dictator of Waadeya, a northern African nation. Aladeen hates American and everything in the free world. What’s different here is The Dictator actually has a storyline. Where Bruno and Borat were done in a more mockumentary style this time it’s all about the script and the great cast of actors director Larry Charles has brought together.

Judd: I loved The Dictator, I thought it was hilarious, well-written and it’s nice to see Ana Farris in something that isn’t a bomb. However, I would love to have seen what Cohen could have done with Aladeen’s political views and the real pubic – how many people he could have gotten to agree with his extremist views before revealing himself as a looney. There’s a touch of that satire in the script, but I think it would have been interesting to see him really go for it. Regardless, as an ousted Aladeen takes refuge in a hairy liberal woman’s organic vegan market there are hijinks aplenty to satisfy the audience.

Swanner: If he were following the Borat model I’m sure that he would have but it looks like he wanted to try a nice linear storyline this time. You are right that there is still plenty to laugh about. It’s interesting that Cohen and Larry Charles can get away with some of the jokes they do. The Munich Olympics Wii game or Bin Laden living in his basement really step over that line and I was still laughing. It’s a talent and these men have it in abundance. I did want to mention that Cohen was just one of the writers. The other three are Alec Berg, David Mandel and Jeff Schaffer who all have written for Curb your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld.

Judd: The reason the humor works is because while we’re laughing with the overt displays of racism and fascism, we’re laughing at it as well. Movies like this can only be made with a skillful touch, especially in this day and age. While I’m hesitant to say that The Dictator could this generation’ Blazing Saddles, the root for comparison is there. Both movies tackle touchy subjects that we shouldn’t be laughing about, but both movies make us laugh regardless. “Good morning, Ma’am and isn’t it a lovely morning?”

Swanner: You’re right. That’s a great comparison. If you look at the film correctly you’ll see they are satirizing the terrorist the same way others make fun of vampire movies or the superhero films. The difference here is you have talented people doing the satirizing. Even with the great cast and brilliant technicians it still comes down to the talents of Sacha Baron Cohen. This film shows he’s not just rehashing his TV series. He can take sensitive subject and make us laugh about them. “To soon” never crosses his mind … thank goodness.

Judd: What really sells it for me is that Cohen can take all the elements of low-brow humor and craft it around an important message. The point is well made and yet it doesn’t come across as preachy – that, alone, is a talent in itself. He likes pushing the envelope, but unlike most modern pranksters, he’s not trying to up the ante for the hell of it. He crosses boundaries to make a point – and isn’t that the true definition of art? Even when that art is a dick pressed against a plate glass window?

Swanner: 1/2

Dark Shadows

Swanner: A few months ago we were discussing taking a TV series and making it a feature film. 21 Jump Street made the transition beautifully but this week Dark Shadows, the gothic soap opera from the 60’s, has it’s turn with Johnny Depp staring and Tim Burton directing. Is it horror? Is it comedy? Drama? Melodrama? These are questions I had before the movie and they are the same questions I have after.

Judd: Tim Burton has a history of being a hit and miss director. His misses usually fall prey to lack of focus and collapsing under their own weight. Dark Shadows is one of those misses. It tries to be too many things. Instead of being a funny comedy or a campy melodrama, it tries to be all those things you listed and doesn’t do a very good job at any of them. And it’s unfortunate, because the original Dark Shadows practically begs to be sent up.

Swanner: It’s not that it’s not a well made movie … it just lacked a clear focus. After seeing the previews I was expecting a comic send up to the old soap so getting this mixed bag left me dry. That’s not to say there weren’t things that worked here. The actors were all really good. Helena Bonham Carter, Michelle Pfeiffer and Depp were the real stand outs. Probably the biggest crime in the movie was not giving the supporting cast more to do. Mostly they reacted to Depp’s Barnabas Collin’s fish out of water comments when they could have been much more incorporated in the film.

Judd Dark Shadows totally reminds me of 1996’s Mars Attacks! Both have a great cast, great production value, excellent potential plot-line, but neither really come together. The funny parts, outside of a couple good zingers, aren’t that funny and the story gets glossed over by hijinks. I would have liked to see more costumes in Dark Shadows. I like the fashion of that time, Depp, Pfeiffer and Bonham Carter all had great costumes.

Swanner: I was also sorry they never played the original theme. They kept showing the waves crashing the shore as a transition from scene to scene but no theme. The music they did use was great. All the music Brian and I grew up on. itunes will make a fortune from this movie. I liked the movie more than Brian but all his complains are valid. For me I was disappointed based on my anticipation. The trailer convinced me I was getting something else. I think if I watch it again I’ll like it better since I know what to expect but based on my first watch…it was good but with no bite.

Judd: Music we grew up on? Well, maybe. My mother does have the same tastes in music as you. I was a little disappointed, also, that the original theme wasn’t used. Dark Shadows wasn’t what I expected, which is a good thing, but then it really wasn’t much of anything. It wasn’t much of a comedy, it wasn’t much of a satire, it wasn’t much of a melodrama – though the elements were all there.


The Avengers

Swanner: I probably say it every year, but I love popcorn movies. They are big, loud with great special effects and a great cast. I’ve just described The Avengers. The cast is amazing, you have Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Samuel L. Jackson, and the two skanks Scarlett Johansson and Gwyneth Paltrow. Right there the budget is over the top, and that’s before special effects. The film was directed by Joss Whedon (Buffy) with a screenplay by Whedon and Zak Penn (Hulk). This is a very big movie.

Judd: Contrary to popular belief, I am not a comic book nerd. I don’t know all the backstories and the alternate universes, but one thing I always enjoy is the Marvel movies. Even though they’re popcorn movies, they’re always well made, well cast, well directed and well written. Clocking in at 2 hours and 20 minutes, The Avengers moves at an excellent pace. Even the “get-to-know-you” first act is done at a decent clip – and with at least nine characters with some influence on the plot, there’s a lot of introductions to be had.

Swanner: I really liked the interaction and the bickering by the leads. Tony Stark trying to piss off the Hulk was pretty funny. The script was really good at pacing the film and also balancing out the humor with the action. My biggest complaint would be not knowing who to focus on when you have so many stars on screen at once, but I liked that the plot brings the super heroes together. It was very familiar, and Loki is a good villain.

Judd: I had no problems on what to focus. Captain America’s body and Iron Man’s charm, the rest faded into the background. And I wasn’t all that impressed with Loki as a villain, but that’s because I wasn’t familiar with the character. I suppose, as a nemesis, he’s got all bases covered. World Domination, vanity, unscrupulousness. He’s got the whole Caine and Able thing with his brother Thor. Theoretically, he’s a good villain, but he stuck me as bit of a pussy — or at the very least underwhelming when compared to the grand Avengers.

Swanner: True. These heroes will ultimately kick Loki’s ass but it was still fun. I was worried that too many heroes on the screen would be a big messy soup, but Whedon handled it flawlessly. He’s from TV so he knows how to juggle multiple storylines but still bring them together at the end. I really liked the film and it’s obviously going to be a big hit and it deserves to be. This is a great way to kick off the summer.

Judd: I agree. Hardcore basement dwellers are dorking all over The Dark Knight Rises coming later this summer, but for normal folk who want to see a fanciful action movie with excellent special effects, a great blend of humor and action, and super heroes that aren’t overladen with angst and inner-turmoil The Avengers hits the spot.

Swanner: 1/2

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Swanner: One thing I love about this movie is that it gives me hope that filmmakers are still making movies that don’t center on whether or not a teenager is going to get laid. Filmmakers are still making personal stories about life, love and, occasionally, the elderly. Marigold Hotel tells the story of a group of British retirees who are hoping to stretch their retirement dollars by moving to India. Once there, they find that their hotel stands, but just barely. John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) directs.

Judd: With a Who’s Who of established British actors, I was hooked on The Best Exotic from the trailer. Bill Nighy, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson Penelope Wilton and Celia Imrie star in a movie that showcases both their talents and the wonderful, but completely foreign, atmosphere that is Udaipur, India. It made me want to put on some linen pants and go there myself.

Swanner: It did the opposite for me. I don’t think I’d like India at all. It looks too hot and you know I don’t like the smell of curry mixed with exhaust fumes. I really like the film too. I liked the narrative from Judi Dench’s character and I liked the way they brought them all together. The scripted was paced really well so props to Ol Parker for the screenplay from the novel by Deborah Moggach. The characters were revealed nicely so I was surprised to discover their wants and fears.

Judd: If it’s a dry heat, I could manage. I love curries, but the smell of all those two-cycle scooters would get to me. I thought the characters were pretty stock, but I enjoyed them just the same. I loved Maggie Smith as the INCREDIBLY racist old lady. You know this is a British film because there is no way the majority of her dialogue would ever make it here in The States.

Swanner: That is a very good point about Maggie Smith’s character. It was hard seeing our Maggie play such an awful character but of course we love her in the end. As much as I don’t want to visit India, I enjoyed seeing it on screen. It gave what looked like a very real portrait of the place without having crime bosses or secret agents shooting it out. By the way, today in Udaipur it’s 99 degrees with a cool 73 at night … no thanks. I really liked the movie. I’m glad you wanted to see it, because it’s one of those films you’re normally willing to miss. Then, after you finally see it, you kick yourself for missing it in the theatre.

Judd: I really liked it and I’m glad that the cast intrigued me enough to want to see it. It’s a well written, well-paced, wonderfully shot and well directed character driven movie. Even the subplots involving Dev Patel were handled nicely and didn’t seem like tacked on filler.

Swanner: ½
Judd: ½

The Five Year Engagement

Swanner: I’m a big fan of Jason Segel. I like most of what he’s done but I think we may have a problem. If you recall the days of Jim Carrey and Robin Williams where the directors thought they were so funny that they would just let them go off script and ad lib scenes? I think that might be what’s happening to Jason Segel. I was watching Five Year Engagement wondering where the editing button was, because scenes were going too long and getting progressively less funny. Usually in his films he’s either funny or charming. Last night he was just tired. The film follows Segel and Emily Blunt through their rocky five year engagement.

Judd: Tom Solomon (Segel) and Violet Barnes (Blunt) leave San Francisco where Tom is an up-and-coming chef, to move to Ann Arbor Michigan so Violet can work on her post-doctorate in psychology. Because there is no haute-cuisine, Tom can’t find a job while Violet is consumed by her work. I don’t think that Segel is as chaotic as Williams or Carrey, and I hope you’re wrong that “Segel Unleashed” would produce such long, boring and miserable movie. I agree, though, the script for The Five Year Engagement was not funny and the film could have used some judicial editing.

Swanner: I was seriously sitting through the movie asking myself why scenes were in the film. Most of them included Segel and that where my fear lies. Granted Segel is a very different comedian then Williams or Carrey but the guy who brought The Muppets back can do no wrong…right? All of the hunting scenes could have been cut. The whole storyline of Tom’s where he’s going to plan the wedding could be cut considering it never comes to fruition. Even tightening up scenes would have cut at least 10 minutes from this movie. I know it sounds like I’m being too hard on the film but it’s because I expect better from this creative team. I wanted to love this movie.

Judd: I feel the same way. I really wanted to like this movie, but the problem is that the lead characters are so unlikeable. There is no motivation for them to stay together. He’s a miserable schlub and she’s admittedly selfish. By the middle of the film I wanted them to split up. I didn’t care that they had been engaged for four years. I was seeing a couple with different priorities drifting apart. I didn’t see a couple madly in love with each other who weren’t able to make it work.

Swanner: I would have been perfectly happy to see the story center around Chris Pratt and Alison Brie who play Segel’s best friend and Blunt’s sister. They were funnier and I liked their storyline better. If you really step back and look it’s obvious that Blunt and Segel have no Chemistry on screen. that’s probably why they seemed so unlikable and why they never seemed destine to be together. I’d say blame the screenwriter but it was Segel and director Nicholas Stroller.

Swanner: ½
Judd: ½

The Lucky Ones

Judd: Nicholas Sparks is back appealing to the testosterone-deficient, with his new movie The Lucky One, starring a grown up and strikingly handsome Zac Efron as a soldier returning from Iraq looking for the woman he believes is his lucky charm, newcomer Taylor Schiller – who then contracts a rare illness and dies.

Swanner: Stop, she doesn’t die but someone does…someone always dies in these movies. As you can tell, The Lucky One however good it might be will be a chick flick in the worst way. It’s a Nicolas Sparks movie and if you have ever seen one (and you’re male) you can never shake it. I’ve had to sit through Dear John, Nights at Rodanthe, Message in a Bottle and a couple more I’m still trying to forget. I’m a big fan of romance movies but Sparks does something with his stories that activates my gag reflex.

Judd: It’s because each of his characters is puddle-deep, engineered for the most gooiest, sappiest minutes per scene he can muster. These characters don’t even come close to real people. What’s worse is that the plot is telegraphed from the beginning; how can there be tension and drama when you know what’s going to happen? Granted, the same can be said about most sports movies, but at least good direction and interesting characters drive the story when you already know the underdog is going to win.

Swanner: It is strange that I’m so repelled by his movies and that is the reason. The only surprises are they he never wavers from his model. The names and places are changed but the plot line never does. Sure Zac Efron looks handsome in the movie and Blythe Danner can act circles around this cast but there really is nothing worthy paying the admission. If you’re a fan, then you know what you’re going to get but if you’re thinking about giving it a chance … stop!

Judd: I will say that Zac Effron has become quite the man. I know, as a chicken hawk, Tom was drooling over him when little Zac was still dotting his face with Clearasil, but he’s filled out quite nicely. In fact I think it’s funny that Zac is the youngest male of the cast, even though his love interest has an ex-husband old enough to be her father.

Swanner: I thought Taylor Schiller was much older when I first saw the preview and was surprised she was only three years older. I thought it was going to be a classic story of a younger man learning from an older person the way of the world but once I knew the plot it was just more Spark’s crap i shut down. Which is why I say the only lucky ones are those that don’t see the movie.

Swanner: 1/2
Judd: No stars