People Like Us

Swanner: Movies during the summer are either special effect superhero movies, R rated comedies or animated films. That’s pretty much every summer to a tee. Studios have been trying to sneak in more adult oriented stories. The Exotic Marigold Hotel and last year’s Midnight in Paris are perfect examples. This week one of those films open called People Like Us, about a family dealing with the death of a father and the discovery of his hidden family. Chris Pine stars as the son who makes all the discoveries and Elizabeth Banks plays his newly found sibling.

Judd: You forgot to mention Michelle Pfeiffer as Chris Pine’s mother who, for as glamorous as she was and still can be, has tackled “older woman” roles with aplomb. I forgot that Midnight in Paris was a summer movie, and it’s movies like that and this one that bring a welcome respite to the barrage of action we’re inundated with from May through August. While I thought People Like Us had its moments that were schmaltzy and heavy-handed, it’s still a very good movie and a satisfying alternative to summer’s usual offerings.

Swanner: The film was directed by Alex Kurtzman. He also wrote the film with Roberto Orci and Jody Lambert. Kurtzman and Orci we’re both the writers of the new Star Trek films, Cowboys and Aliens and the Transformer movies. They can write for a big movie and here they can obviously write for a smaller film. I know you called scenes schmaltzy but I never found anything schmaltzy but then again this movie is so me. Once Pine comes home I was hooked. Pfeiffer did and awesome job with her role and would be an Oscar contender if this film had come out later in the year.

Judd: It might surprise us and get an Oscar nod later on, who knows? The editing is a little fast paced for this type of film. There was one scene where Pine storms out of the house and drives off in his father’s gigantic mid-70s Grand Marquis convertible. During this, there a series of Guy Ritchie like quick jump cuts of Pine starting the car that felt so out of place it was jostling. Otherwise, as a whole, this is one of the better movies we’ve seen in the past couple weeks.

Swanner: It’s probably my favorite film so far this year. It’s got wonderful performances with a terrific script. I liked the soundtracks diversity (since the father was a music producer) and that car Brian had mentioned was pretty sweet. As I said before, this is my kind of movie and the ending of the film was fantastic. Such a subtle twist and beautifully executed. I loved the film and hope it finds its audience.

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Magic Mike

Swanner: If you look back at all the dance type movie, what makes them work is a strong script. Saturday Night Fever and Footloose had compelling characters you could relate to and wrap yourself around. While watching Magic Mike I found myself waiting for the next striptease. It didn’t matter how dreamy Channing Tatum was I still felt nothing for his character. I do have to admit that most of the acting was pretty good but the lack of a script that made me feel any compassion for these shallow empty souls made sitting through this film tougher than a double feature of Showgirls and The Wiz.

Judd: You shut your damn mouth about Showgirls! Showgirls is a modern classic with Nomi Malone rivaling leading ladies like Margo Channing and Scarlett O’Hara. That being said, Magic Mike is no Showgirls. If anything, it’s Boogie Nights for Beginners. Magic Mike (Tatum), a stripper with dreams of being more, brings his buddy, Adam (Alex Pettyfer), into the fast and sexy and totally stereotypical world of male stripping. While Mike tries to better himself, Adam gets caught up in a life of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll.

Swanner: The storyline description that came from the studio says “A male stripper teaches a younger performer how to party, pick up women, and make easy money.” and that’s just what they delivered. What really surprises me is that this film was directed by Academy Award winning director Steven Soderbergh. The screenplay on the other hand was written by Reid Carolin who has no real writing experience and it shows. I think the biggest insult here is that after having to sit through this vacant crap…at the end Matthew McConaughey strips down to tiny thong. I didn’t know whether to leave or vomit.

Judd: I thought the movie was better than expected. I figured from the trailer the movie was going to be about some broad, hung up on Mike, unleashes a Patricia Heaton-like tsunami of nagging and ridicule regarding his lifestyle until Mike relents and they live happily miserable ever after. I even figured there’d be a scene where she threw away his favorite T-Shirt. You know, like most real-life heterosexual relationships happen. Instead the movie was a shallow, run-of-the-mill hooker with a heart of gold story, with some slinky and sexy moves by Tatum.

Swanner: Yes, Tatum is the hooker with the heart of gold. I just didn’t give a crap of what happens to him. I just wanted more stripping. On the subject of stripping, Tatum was really good but overall I’m not sure if it was the choreography or the Cinematography but the dance numbers were mostly forgettable. You have to at least have good dancing in these silly films and some of the strippers are barely trying in the group numbers. I was disappointed because I figured with a big star and a big director we were going to get something unexpected. I guess in a way I did. It made male stripper boring.

Judd: Tatum is a thick and muscular guy, and I was truly amazed at his lithe gyrations. But, as you said, the other dancers were either forgettable or altogether horrible. As with most of the movies we’ve seen so far this summer, the weak script is what kills this movie. It’s almost as if the studios aren’t even trying to personalize their stock scripts anymore. Pretty soon the names of the characters in these films are going to be No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, etc. who live in Anytown USA.

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Judd: ½

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Swanner: I’m really confused on how to review Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. You can really look at it two ways. A funny campy action adventure that just happens to have Abe Lincoln as the lead character; or as a ridiculous disaster and someone at Fox should be fired for green lighting the silliness. The film follows Abe from childhood where is mother is killed by a vampire, into adulthood where Lincoln still seeks revenge on the creature that killed his mother. Russian director Timur Bekmambetov (Day Watch/Night Watch) directs.

Judd: Someone at Fox should be fired. The movie wasn’t nearly as campy as it should have been, it’s not that funny, and it didn’t even begin to wade into its R-Rated territory. There was no cussing, minimal bloodshed, and Abe and his “roommate” Henry never got it on. So why rate it R? Not only is the movie NOT an over-the-top spectacle, it has the nerve to get bogged down in the middle as Abe woos Mary Todd, campaigns for presidency then takes on the civil war.

Swanner: That’s what I was thinking too. It took itself way too seriously to be considered funny. If you’re going to make Lincoln a vampire killer then have him at least toss out some silly Bruce Willis type one-liners to keep it light. I like the idea of the story but I didn’t like the follow through. Teddy Roosevelt would have been a better President to fudge a silly story like this around. The screenplay and the novel it was based on, is by Seth Grahame-Smith who wrote Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows which also suffered from not knowing what genre the film actually was.

Judd: I also thought the movie looked incredibly cheap. It’s shot on video, which takes incredibly skillful lighting and camerawork to make it look “cinematic”. There were many scenes were the lighting was poorly done and the whole scene looked as fake and staged as any daytime soap. The prosthetic nose on young Abraham was also a huge distraction.

Swanner: They were using the same filming techniques they used on 300 or Spartacus. Green screens and the slow motions killings have become somewhat common place so I wasn’t wowed by any of it. I think if people go in wanting to laugh I think they’ll be okay with the film whether or not the producers meant it that way. I’m just worried that people might think this is a real Lincoln biopic … I mean it says Vampire Hunter but we are talking the American public.

Judd: Abe Lincoln may have been using the same techniques, but they weren’t nearly as well-done. I found the movie dull, slow and a muddle of styles. It’s unfortunate, because the concept has fantastic potential. I could see a franchise of Presidential Monster Slayers. You mentioned Teddy Roosevelt, who would be a perfect Werewolf hunter. Nixon could be a dragon slayer, which is really why he went to China in ‘72. Taft could hunt Frankenstein’s monster, because Frankenstein was slow and Taft was fat. See? All this potential ruined by a poor first attempt.

Swanner: ½
Judd: ½

Brave

Swanner: Any time I see that there is a new Pixar film coming out I get excited. Some of my favorite movies have been Pixar and 6 out of the last 10 best animated Oscar winning films have been Pixar. So they aren’t some flash in the pan. Brave hosts the first female lead the studio which is funny since Disney is almost the opposite with most of their films centered around a female (Usually a princess) lead. Brave is the story of a Scottish princess who is defies her family when they try to force her into an arranged marriage.

Judd: It’s no coincidence that you mention this along with Disney. Brave, I feel, is Pixar’s most “Disney” film to date. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing depends on how you feel about the Princess genre. Personally, I like my Princesses pretty and helpless. Ah, the good old days before women’s lib. Today’s princesses are all about breaking tradition and striking out on their own. I say they need to get back to falling asleep, waiting for some Prince to rape them awake and then marrying the bastard out of gratitude.

Swanner: Not sure how I’m to approach that so, let me tell you who’s on the creative team, Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell directing, with the same three as writers, plus Irene Mecchi, who wrote The Lion King. It looks like Pixar is introducing us to some new creative folks while their bigger directors are out making live action features. I was really surprised that the preview showed us maybe the first 20 minutes of the film and the rest was a surprise…so I’ll leave it that way. It was nice to unwrap this present without having been barraged with all the best scenes before the film ever starts.

Judd: Don’t get me wrong, I liked Brave and the story is excellent. The fact that the movie is so different from the trailers is definitely a good thing. I was afraid of a Scottish Mulan. The plot, while protecting the twist, is about Princess Merida (Kelly MacDonald) wants to change her fate. She follows these little blue fairy-things, called wisps, to a witch in the woods, who gives her a cake to influence the Queen in Merida’s favor. Billy Connolly is the King, Emma Thompson is the Queen, Julie Walters is The Witch.

Swanner: You know when the witch shows up there’s going to be trouble. Brian did not like the wisps and for good reason…they were very creepy. I think Brave is a wonderful introduction into the “princess” genre. Unfortunately for Brian, Ariel is the last princess that’s just waiting for her princess to show up. Merida is a good role model for those in liberal states and a perfect addition to the Disney family and I loved her hair. It was a bit of a male slam with all of the men being barely about to speak but on the other hand I can’t wait to see all those kilts next time I’m in Disneyland. Brave was an exciting surprise and another big win for Pixar.

Judd: As a Disney film, Brave fits the mold and is a good movie. However, as a Pixar film, I think it’s a bit lacking. Pixar has set the new standard and Brave doesn’t meet it. The plots involving the bad guy, the old fable at the beginning, and Merida’s quest for independence all seem a bit thrown together willy-nilly. There wasn’t the drum-tight coherence one would expect from a Pixar script. There also wasn’t the soul-stirring emotion that movies like Wall-E, Up and Toy Story 3 have in spades. Brave is a good movie, but it is only an OK Pixar movie.

Swanner: 1/2
Judd:

Rock of Ages

Swanner: I’m always surprised in movie musical when the actors just start singing. You’d think that after years of Fame and Smash that it wouldn’t but it still does. So when the Girl from Oklahoma gets of the bus and starts singing Sister Christian I was quickly reminded this was indeed a real musical and when all the people on the bus join in at the chorus I thought this is going to be one big gay musical … and I was right. Adam Shankman (Hairspray) directs.

Judd: I like musicals. Give me a good ol’ classic MGM spectacle any day. However, I do not like “jukebox” musicals, where the book writer tries to shoehorn in as many familiar tunes as possible into a paper thin plot, for the “Ohhhhh, I know that one!” effect. Rock of Ages joins a list of abominations like Mama Mia and Across the Universe. Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Mary J Blige and Catherine Zeta-Jones star in this retread of a 1950’s stock script about trials and tribulations of two youths making it big in the City of Angels.

Swanner: The script is very 101. Girl and boy meet in the big city where they’ve come to be a star. Even the boy sells out while the girl becomes a “dancer” is in this one. Alec Baldwin owns the club that’s behind in taxes … this is starting to sound like Burlesque! Does that make Alec Baldwin Cher? Did you think the conservative storyline was just a waste? I like seeing Zeta-Jones in a musical again but they didn’t give her much to do. I didn’t hate this as much as you did. It’s big campy fun with songs I know and a familiar story. The film does have a good look to it with great choreography and cinematography. Cruise did a good job becoming Bret Michaels but I find Bret Michaels really gross so when Cruise is trying to be sexy I was kind of grossed out.

Judd: The story of the Ladies Church League totally felt tacked on, and should have been disposed of given the film’s 123 minute runtime. They only sang two numbers and their presence had no effect on the plot. At least Zeta-Jones can sing; while was I was impressed with Cruise’s voice, I was less than impressed with the rest of the cast and found the female lead, Julianne Hough’s voice to be about as harmonious as a cat in heat. Tinny, whiny and nasally, every time she opened her mouth I suffered from a bout of indigestion.

Swanner: I was okay with Hough’s voice when she was singing with someone else but you are right with her solos … very irritating. The rest of the cast I thought did fine for what they were expected to do. When I see Baldwin and Brand in a musical I figure they are the comic relief. I never saw the stage version so I can’t tell you how important the Ladies league was supposed to be but here they are literally 20 minutes of this movie that could have been trimmed. I thought the film was big campy fun and I’m sure that women and the gays will enjoy the film … who knows, it may even grow on you.

Judd: For people who don’t like Classic Rock songs arranged for a show choir, Rock of Ages is a movie to skip. Save your money, download the songs from iTunes. Or if you want some real fun wait for the movie to come out on disc, then listen to Burlesque while watching Rock of Ages – I’m sure it’ll be the most interesting matchup since Wizard of Oz and Dark Side of the Moon. I hear Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand’s make out scene times up perfectly with Aguilera’s Nasty Naughty Boy.

Swanner: ½

Judd: ½

Snow White

Swanner: Earlier this year we got the first of two Snow White movies (not to mention a TV series) Mirror, Mirror which was more of a comedy and now comes the second entry, Snow White and the Huntsman. With a cast of Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone and Nick Frost you know you’re in for something good…but then you have Kristen Stewart as Snow White and the whole equation changes.

Judd: What is Kristen Stewarts appeal? She has no stage presence. She can’t carry a scene. She’s a lump. Snow White and The Huntsman, much like Mirror, Mirror, was a good movie while the plot focused on the evil step mother, but when the story shifts to Snow White, both movies ground to a halt. No one cares about Snow White. We know her story. There’s no reason to keep telling it, especially when you have unchartered territory like the Step Mother and someone like Theron, who was obviously having fun with it.

Swanner: She was a big wet blanket. I’m pretty sure when the audience starts chanting for the evil queen there is a problem with casting. The worst part of all this is the studio just sees box office totals and have already green lighted a sequel. You lost the best character in the story and if Stewart is left to carry a sequel … scary. Another thing that’s scary is that this was the first film of direct Rupert Sanders and screen writer Evan Daugherty. They literally have no previous film experience. The other two writer are John Lee Hancock (writer and director of the Blind Side) and Hossein Amini (Drive) are at least seasoned. How can I get a feature film writing gig with no experience?

Judd: It seems to be happening more and more often in Hollywood. Virtual unknowns are getting huge budget films. Look at Tarsem Singh. Anyway, even the dwarves couldn’t save Kristen Stewart smothering the very life out of this thing. You tell me there’s a movie that stars Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, and Nick Frost that sucks, and I would call you a liar. Stewart even manages to suck the talent from those around her.

Swanner: I did like everyone else in the film. As we have mentioned, Theron acts the crap out of her Evil Queen and Chris Hemsworth does a good job with his tortured Huntsman … I wish he looked cleaner in the film. He looked like he smelled bad, but he did play a good hero. I think the film could have been a real treat if they had better casting with Snow White. Even Natalie Portman or Mila Kunis could have taken on the Snow White role and knocked it out of the park. I guarantee that some studio bonehead was chomping on a big cigar saying, “Get me the girl making all the money in those Vampire movies!” … And the rest is history.

Judd: While I think anyone other than Stewart could have done better with the role, I don’t think it would have made the movie that much better. As a character, Snow White is fairly weak. She doesn’t do anything. She runs away and the dwarves take it from there. They tried giving her some sass by taking a Snow of Arc turn and having her head up an army, but in the end she’s still “just Snow White”.

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Madagascar 3

Swanner: Summer always brings us plenty of remakes and sequels. This week Madagascar gets a part 3 and maybe three is the charm because this part three is full of plenty of good things. As you know the animals are still trying to get home to New York so they join the circus as a way of getting them home. The film is directed by Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath and Conrad Vernon. Both Darnell and McGrath directed to two earlier ones and Vernon had directed Monsters vs Aliens. There is a lot of experience here which made a huge difference on screen. Darnell also wrote the screenplay with Noah Baumbach who wrote the hilarious Fantastic Mr. Fox. This film had to be good with all these credits.

Judd: I remember hating the first Madagascar because there was too much Chris Rock at his most Chris Rockiest. You hated it because you hate Ben Stiller. I honestly don’t remember Madagascar 2. I know it had something to do with the lion eating the zebra. This third installment has a great script, with lightning fast grown-up humor that kids aren’t going to catch – and that adults will miss, too, if they’re not paying attention. The movie also has a great villain. Has the movie reached its pinnacle? The answer is probably yes, but it doesn’t feel very satisfying.

Swanner: The circus gave them a great way to bring in a bunch of new characters. Some very funny new characters to where we’re not as focused of the now boring leads. If anything they breathed new life into the series. I don’t think enough to continue the series but enough to give this film a fun spirits with some big laughs. The bad guy this time around is Captain Chantel Dubois, an animal control official who will not except defeat. This character voiced by Frances McDormand and she knocks it out of the park. This character is up there with Robin Williams’ Genie from Aladdin or Ellen DeGeneres’ Dory from Finding Nemo

Judd: Throughout the film, I kept thinking, “This character is waaaay too good for this movie.” From her look and design, to the voice, to her rendition of Edith Piaf’s “Non, je ne regrette rien.” I want to like this movie more than I actually did, and when I think about what I didn’t like about it, the answer comes back to Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria – the original cast. I like the penguins, the monkeys are hysterical and I even liked the love interest they gave King Julian. Every time the movie hits a lull, it’s because the focus returns to the original four.

Swanner: I agree. the original characters are pretty much done. Especially Stiller and Rock, so adding in the circus was essential to the success of the film. I also wanted to point out the 3D. Normally 3D is a waste for me but here they used it quite a bit. It helped enhance the picture. The whiskers on the animals, the balloons and even the sharpness of Captains Dubois nose came through to finally make me happy to see a 3D movie. There is enough here to make this a must see. You must see these wonderful new characters and if there is a part four let’s hope it The Revenge of Captain Dubois!

Judd: I think pairing the penguins against Dubois would make a great movie. For me, the 3D was ok, but not necessary; the gimmick has worn off. It’s too bad the script was for a Madagascar movie. If the screenwriters were given something fresh to write, I feel like they could come up with the next Rango. Something more for the grownups than for the kiddies. Unfortunately, Baumbach and Darnell focus most of their creativity trying to breathe new life into animals that should have been put down a while ago.

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