Parental Guidance

Swanner: Billy Crystal and Bette Midler star as Artie and Diane, grandparents who have been ostracized by their daughter (Marisa Tomei) but when no one else can watch her children Artie and Diane get the call to care for their grandchildren. Tomei still holds a grudge over her folks for the way she was raised…hilariousness ensues. Director Andy Fickman (You Again) creates a heartwarming family comedy about redemption and the realization that your family isn’t all that bad after all.

Judd: I’ve been thinking about Parental Guidance, and while it’s definitely not my kind of movie, I’m having a hard time trashing it the way I want to. Has my heart grown three times this holiday season? Hardly. But compared to This Is 40, which is more my type of film, Parental Guidance is a better overall movie with a tight run time, a story that doesn’t meander and much more likable characters. Don’t misunderstand me. The direction is hokey and Bette Midler comes across as a modern Ethel Merman, but unlike the bloated and pretentious crap coming out this season, Parental Guidance delivers what it promises.

Swanner: That is a very good point…it delivered what it promised and a bit more. I was really surprised how emotional it got without being schmaltzy. I’m not a big fan of “family ” comedy but screenwriters Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse did a really nice job creating a dysfunctional family. Believe me there were a few times I wanted to beat those kids…some really old school parenting but since Crystal and Midler felt the same way I was validated. The script also offered up some lovely sage advice I’d have never guessed I’d hear in this film.

Judd: I will grant you that the ending between Crystal and Tomei is poignant and well executed, but overall the movie is too broad and sitcom-y, to be really classified as good. For instance, Billy Crystal gets hit in his gentleman’s area with a baseball bat, and it’s played with no sense of irony or shame. Bette Midler could have taken a pie to the face and it would have fit right in. Tim Allen should have been the grandfather, not Billy Crystal.

Swanner: Okay, so it was a bit sitcomish but when Bette tells Marisa that she needs to take care of her husband because when the kids stop calling the husband is the one still there…I thought that was a very good moment. As TV as it is it’s still more entertaining than quite a few films I’ve seen this year (or this week) and personally I don’t think Tim Allen could have pulled off the role. When I tell people how much I like the movie I get the same response…Really? Yes, really! It’s not going to win any awards but it will make a nice offering under the Cineplex tree this Christmas.

Judd: The message in that Bette/Marisa moment is amazing in this day and age of “The Children Are the Center of Our World” parenting, and it was the moments like those that are keeping me from hating this film. The easiest way for me to describe it (maybe not for our readers to understand it) would be to say that Parental Guidance is like an old British MGB. It was a really good car that was horribly made.



Django Unchained

Swanner: With the help of his mentor, a slave-turned-bounty hunter sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner. This is the bare bones description of Quentin Tarantino’s new film Django Unchained (The D is silent). Tarantino not only directed but wrote the film that take a Tarantino look at slavery much the way he handled the Nazi’s in Inglourious Basterds. The main cast includes Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L Jackson and Kerry Washington but the supporting cast is a very cool mix of some older actors.

Judd: I am a huge fan of Blaxploitation movies, and this isn’t Tarantino’s first foray into Blaxploitation genre; however, this is the first time in decades where a filmmaker has made a Blaxploitation film that wasn’t afraid to wallow in the racist and violent muck that original movies like Mandingo called their bread and butter. During the height of 70s Blaxploitation filmmaking there were only 14 Black Westerns made, Django Unchained would have fit right in.

Swanner: I’m not a big western fan but when it’s done the right way a good movie is a good movie. I always liked the Blaxploitation as well but I liked the horror and comedy better. I like the way Tarantino has no problems dealing with his dialog. In the 1850’s they used certain words more freely then we ever would today. They must have used that word 100 times in the movie. Beside the “N” word the script is a sharp and brilliant as any of his scripts. My biggest problem is that we have to wait three years for new movies from him… it’s not fair.

Judd: The performances here are amazing as well. Christoph Waltz proved himself to be the ultimate coldblooded killer in Inglourious Basterds and his turn in Django proves him to be friendly and affable, but still a coldblooded killer. DiCaprio is amazing as plantation owner and Mandingo fighter Calvin Candie. His commitment to the distasteful role is a testament to his acting chops. In these “sensitive” times, I could easily see an actor turning down such a role, yet DiCaprio owns it.

Swanner: There is a wonderful salute to Mel Brooks with a mirrored moment from Blazing Saddles. You could also say that the Django character was quite a bit like Cleavon Little’s Bart. As with all Tarantino’s films the music is its own star. How he comes up with the songs he uses is a genius all its own. All the performances are good. It’s amazing how a 2:46 running time just flew by but they say time flies when you’re having fun… I had a lot of fun with the film. One last thing is Tarantino knows how to end a movie and end it well. He just makes great movies.

Judd: There were several moments at the tail end of the movie where it could have ended and, to me, the actual ending felt more like an epilogue. The more delicate types are going to balk at the constant use of “nigger” and the savage, horrific violence inflicted upon the slaves. In this modern day of tiptoes and eggshells, we’re only allowed to talk about such things in hushed reverence or pretend like it didn’t exist. Tarantino takes those atrocities, thrusts them back into the limelight and uses them to craft the genre of movie that I figured to be forbidden, and one of the best overall movies I’ve seen.




Les Miserables

Swanner: Let me start by saying that I’ve never liked the story of Les Miz and the musical is far from being a favorite. That being said the film does nothing to change the way I feel about the show. Director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) takes the show from stage to screen in what is a very big project. The story for those who don’t know follows Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) a man who has spent most of his life in prison and the rest of it running from Javert (Russell Crowe) a soldier who has devoted his life on bring Valjean back to prison after breaking his parole. His original crime was stealing a loaf of bread.

Judd: Written by Victor Hugo in 1862, Les Miserables, the novel, is about one billion pages long and the staged musical runs a full 36 hours without intermission. That being said, I have to assume that large chunks of plot were left out to create a digestible screenplay. Why do I assume that? Because outside of Valjean and Javert, it seemed to me that the rest of the cast was only there in pad the body count and to perform the last number with Valjean in the afterlife. Fantine, Eponine and Gavroche were alive one minute, dead the next and outside of a stirring lament, they had no real purpose other than as a plot device.

Swanner: I was really surprised that they shot the film in standard frame…I expected a big wide screen musical. They also had the cameras in the faces of the actors which took away from any grandness you’d expect this show. I always like my musical to be pulled back a little so we can digest the scene and not just focus on the actor speaking. All this falls on the director. I did like that I got to understand the story a bit better than I did on stage. It opened me up to see just how pointless the story really is and how it makes me disconnect from all the characters all the more.

Judd: I took my friend with me who loves Broadway musicals and she was less than impressed with the performances. She likes Hugh Jackman but thought the vocal requirements for Jean Valjean were too much for him – Colm Wilkinson, the Broadway original, made an appearance – and she hated Russell Crowe. Anne Hathaway, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham-Carter were the only redeeming actors with Cohen and Bonham-Carter playing the scandalous inn keepers.

Swanner: I usually hate the innkeepers but I agree, they came in and pulled the show up to a point that kept me going for another hour. As much as I didn’t like the choices of the director my big grip is with the story… it sucks. You have Javert chasing Valjean over bread when everyone else in the film are hookers, thieves and murders. How can I invest in a story I find ridiculous? I don’t and won’t. There are four melodies that they’ve churned into 20 songs. Only a couple are any good. If you love Les Miz you’ll love this and look past the flaws. If you don’t like Les Miz or hate musicals… see Django Unchained.

Judd: I agree. Between the thin story, the horrible choices in direction and cinematography and the lackluster performances Les Miserables is meant for the diehard fans and fans alone. I like musicals, but I’m picky about them. Les Miz does not make the grade.


This Is 40

Swanner: Five years ago the film Knocked Up came out with Seth Rogen and Katharine Heigl. Heigl sister in the film was played by Leslie Mann and her husband was played Paul Rudd. Rudd and Mann were so funny in the film that director Judd Apatow wrote a sequel for their characters. It didn’t hurt that Mann is married to Apatow and their kids play Sadie and Charlotte in the film. It’s nepotism at its best. In the film both Mann and Rudd are turning 40, and their jobs and marriage are all coming to pivotal moment in their lives. Did turning 40 cause you this much pain Brian?

Judd: I’ll let you know when it happens, asshole. Since the beginning of both his producing and directing career, Judd Apatow has been consistently criticized for being overindulgent and unable to pair his scripts down to manageable runtimes. After 2009’s Funny People and this year’s This Is 40, I have to agree. Forcing us to endure his wife and children in an overly long movie that isn’t funny about two, spoiled married people in stuck in misery of their own creation This is 40 is an abomination that makes me glad I’m gay and single.

Swanner: Believe me, we’re all glad you’re single and do you really qualify as being gay? If anyone is new to our reviews they should know that Brian doesn’t like romantic comedies. He wants nothing to do with them so why he goes to review them…I don’t know. He does make some valid points about the film. It’s too long by about 20 minutes and it’s difficult to feel too sorry for people who make this much money and have so many “things”. They also have two children who fight constantly and it does make me glad I have no children. It’s still a funny movie that looks at relationships and how after many years together people tend to fall in to boring comfortable roles.

Judd: I liked Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin, so I figured This is 40, would fall into line with those movies. Apatow’s basic formula is Immature Guy and Loveable Nagging Woman get into/have a relationship. Loveable Nagging Woman tries to control Immature Guy, Immature Guy doesn’t know if he wants controlled, which leads to Conflict, Resolution and then Happily Ever After. This is 40 cranks those stereotypes up to an “Everybody Loves Raymond” quality 11. The problem with that is Raymond fans aren’t accustomed to such offensive writing and Apatow Fans aren’t accustom to such unlikable characters. No one wins.

Swanner: I thought it was good…not great but good. For me it was the addition on the in-laws and the children that bothered me. The two leads were just who they were in Knocked Up. I love Rudd and Mann a lot, so I was very happy with the leads. The dialog was spot on, but the story wanted to cover too much and introduced too many characters. That’s where they could have cut time, but when you have Albert Brooks and John Lithgow as the in-laws it’s hard to cut them. For people who have liked previous Apatow films are going to like This is 40. Hopefully this will be the film that finally makes Leslie Mann a movie star.

Judd: I disliked it. It was too long; the characters were completely unlikeable; their problems were self-made. I couldn’t sympathize. Mann was a shrew, Rudd was a schlub. Their children were brats. The most likable characters were the extras Jason Segel, Chris O’Dowd and John Lithgow. Segel and O’Dowd weren’t part of the drama, and Lithgow knew when it was time to retreat and run the hell away.

Judd: ½

Jack Reacher

Swanner: Jack Reacher is the title of Tom Cruise’s new film, it’s also the title character that he plays. There has been a sniper shooting on a riverfront where five random people are killed. Cruise’s character is a helping a lawyer try to prove her client has been framed. Based on Lee Child’s novel One Shot the film turns out to be a very slick thriller. Rosemary Pike plays Helen Rodin the lawyer working with Cruise. Pike gives a really solid performance and I look forward to more from her. It’s nice that director/screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) has Helen and Jack working together but doesn’t force us to watch some lame attempt at a romantic storyline. They have a job and it’s all business…thank you.

Rounding out the rest of the cast is Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo, Jai Courtney and a very creepy performance for Werner Herzog. I was really surprised with how good film is and how well it moved. The Reacher character is very good at solving problems and reading people. I like characters and films like this because it makes me be a better audience member. I’m not a fan of just action movies so when I’m asked to solve a mystery too it keeps me from getting lazy, I watch the film closer and get more from the experience. The opening sequence with the sniper comes at a really poor time considering the Connecticut shooting but once that scene is done the mystery thriller kicks in and all is well.

I know a lot of people are turned off my Cruise’s personal life but his Reacher character is smart, fair and just so before too long you’re just enjoy the film. He solidly adapts to the character and makes it his own. Actually all the cast is good but Cruise and Pike are stand out and McQuarrie’s script and direction are spot on. If the film does well, and it should, expect this to franchise out and personally I can’t wait.

Swanner 1/2

The Hobbit

Swanner: After 9 years Peter Jackson is back in Middle-earth to bring The Hobbit to life. This first installment follows title character Bilbo Baggins, who is swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor, which was long ago conquered by the dragon Smaug. Approached out of the blue by the wizard Gandalf the Grey, Bilbo finds himself joining a company of thirteen dwarves led by the legendary warrior Thorin Oakenshield. You can see much like the Lord of the Rings our hobbit and companions will travel across Middle-earth to fulfill their quest. Jackson has brought back all the actors from the LOTR including Ian McKellen, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee but he also introduces us to a many new characters including a young Bilbo Baggins played by Martin Freeman.

Judd: Our faithful readers will know that I hate fantasy, especially the kind with wizards, elves and dragons. In fact, I’m already feeling irritable after reading Tom’s opening. However, I did go see The Hobbit – at least the first 30 minutes of it — because it made cinematic history. For 100 plus years, movies have been shot at 24 frames per second. Aspect ratios, sound scapes, and film processing techniques have all progressed, but 24 fps has been the standard. The Hobbit doubled that film speed and was shot at 48 frames per second. That’s like going from a Model T to a Bugatti.

Swanner: As Brian knows I have a TV with 240 Hz which means it refreshes twice as fast as most new TV’s and four times as much as older ones. This has the same effect Brian just described so for me I’m used to it. To me the film just looked amazing and I can’t wait till all films are made this way. Some people are claiming they feel dizzy or even nauseous but once you make it through a few minutes that feeling should disappear. The film is also being shown in the standard 24 fps.

Judd: But you’re wrong. You’re TV uses algorithms to calculate the motion between frames, so you’re seeing what your TV thinks 48 fps looks like. You talk about the film; you let me talk about the techy stuff. While I will say that real 48 fps is better than the “Smooth Motion” most TVs come with, which are prone to stutter when the TV miscalculates the frame, 48 fps as it stands is “different” and I believe it is the future of film.

Swanner: Fine. Where Brian hates fantasy, I love it. The dragons, wizards and lots of men with beards. I was in full geek heaven last night during the screening. The 2:46 running time of film moves swiftly and I was surprised when the credits ran. It’s a good thing. One thing I love about Jackson fantasy films is that everything looks great. The score by Howard Shore is wonderful, the cinematography by Andrew Lesnie is incredible and art direction, makeup and costumes are breathtaking. If there was any complaint about the film is that they are once again making me wait for the other films to come out.

Judd: The biggest critique you’re going to see about 48 fps is that it looks fake. I agree. But the science of lighting, SFX and cinematography are all built around 24 fps, which is apparently incredibly forgiving. I think it’s going take movie makers several years to be able to make 48 fps look cinematic. In the 30 minutes I watched, there was a fight scene, interior and exterior shots. I thought the SFX looked extremely phony and some of the exterior shots looked like a soundstage. Even standard camera movements and angles were blatantly apparent and awkward. I think 48 fps has the potential to be breathtaking, but as it enhances everything, over the next few years 48 fps is going to look garish and cheap.

Swanner: The 48 fps doesn’t bother me at all and I can’t wait to see it on my TV at home. The film is big and beautiful just liked I hoped it would be. If you’re worried about the film speed then see a 24 fps screening. If you want to see the future of film then buck up and enjoy. I’m so glad Peter Jackson remains at the helm because this film is a companion piece to the LOTR’s and once all three films come out they will sit beautifully next to each other on my shelf. If you’re a Middle-earth fan you won’t be disappointed

Judd: Of course you don’t mind 48 fps, I said it looks garish and cheap. I hate to rain on your parade, but bluray does not currently support 48 fps, and while your TV is 240 Hz, it wasn’t built to accept 48 fps source material. Your TV and player, at the very least will need a software update. That, in a nutshell, is why The Hobbit is so revolutionary. It changes everything, and that is a good thing – or it will be, eventually, when filmmakers update their technique. Avatar 2 is being shot at 48 fps, and because that’s largely a digital/animated film it may avoid some of the pitfalls The Hobbit encountered. All I know, and I can’t believe I’m saying it, is that I’m looking forward to it.


Silver Linings Playbook

Swanner: I love romantic comedies. Brian knows this … everyone knows it. So when i heard about the film and with it’s cast, I was very excited. Early reviews were talking Oscar consideration so my expectations were very high. The film follows Patrick (Bradley Cooper) who has just been released from a mental hospital. Patrick lives with his father (Robert Deniro) and mother (Jacki Weaver) both who add to why Patrick is the way he is. His father is a chronic gambler with ADD and his mom is a big time enabler. Already in the course of the film I’m feeling a bit apprehensive. Patrick was in the institution for beating the man that was having an affair with his wife. He still loves his wife and obsesses about her all through the film. The conflict here (if there weren’t enough) is that Patrick meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who has a few problems of her own and as in any good romcom they are perfect together even if they don’t know it themselves . At this point I’m feeling nervous. I can deal with people with emotional problems but when things turn violent … I find myself withdrawing from the story and violence does escalate a few times.

The film was written and directed by David O. Russell (The Fighter) based on the novel by Matthew Quick. Russell keeps the action moving and the dialog is brilliantly written and acted. There is scene that Jenifer Lawrence has where she reminded me of a young Rosaline Russell in His Girl Friday. She machine guns out a speech so well that she’s certain to get an Academy Award nomination and is probably the front runner in that field. The film is a pretty good romcom but it really goes further than that. First, its themes make it more of a drama but still there are plenty of laughs. They are also dealing with more than “you’re dating my boss who I’m really in love with” storylines. That’s where my biggest problem with the film comes in to play, the manic behavior of the characters. I don’t like physical conflicts. If there’s a fight, I leave. I know it’s just a movie but the film is so well made i started feeling like someone in the room and that made me not want to be there. All that being said it really is a good movie. The main cast of the film could easily get Oscar nods and the writing is as i said before … brilliant. The themes are heavy so if you’re like me you might want to avoid the film but I’m glad I saw it.


Rise of the Guardians

Swanner: Just in time to get us in the mood for the holidays, DreamWorks brings us Rise of the Guardians. The story follows Santa, the Sandman, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny all who have been made Guardians of the children by the moon…it’s a children’s film so just play along. This year the moon has asked Jack Frost to join the Guardians to help them defeat the Boogie Man who wants to make nightmares take the place of dreams. Will become a holiday classic?

Judd: With voice talents Alec Baldwin (Santa), Hugh Jackman (Bunny), Isla Fisher (Tooth), Jude Law (Pitch Black aka Boogie Man) and Chris Pine (Jack) The Guardians is pretty heavy on the stars, but do they bring anything to table? Not really. Jude Law is pretty as Pitch Black, but anyone with an English accent can play a villain. I thought the concept was interesting, but the execution was lacking. The movie is slowly paced and there were several times where the Sandman visited me right there in the theatre.

Swanner: I was snoozing as well. There seemed to be a lot of action but I never felt drawn into the film. It was strange that as big as the characters were I was never involved. It was also odd that they have Jack Frost and Santa in the story and are releasing the film right before Christmas but the holiday that’s be celebrated is Easter??? Did I miss something? Maybe they wanted the film to seem timeless but it just felt confused to me.

Judd: The movie is based on a book, and I have a feeling there was much more to the Jack Frost story than was presented in the movie. Jack has amnesia; he can’t be seen by children because they don’t believe in him and he wonders why the moon made him a guardian. The plot would be better played out as a Nicholas Sparks novel, except it’s the wife who doesn’t believe in her amnesiac husband anymore. I think the disconnect is that the characters Santa, Bunny and Tooth, are presented so differently from the way that we traditionally know them. Santa should not be a Russian with tattoos.

Swanner: I really like the tattoo’s but I guess me liking a fat guy with tattoos is nothing out of the ordinary. I think that Sparks novel has already been done and believe it or not…better. The movie has a wonderful look and I’m sure kids will love this movie but if you and I were dozing then good luck to the parents that get dragged to see it. The 3D was nice but not worth the hit at the box office. I say wait for spring when it comes out on video so the Easter egg hunt in the film will feel more appropriate.

Swanner: ½
Judd: ½

Life of Pi

Swanner: Life of Pi, based on the novel by Yann Martel, tells the story of a boy who survives a shipwreck in the Pacific Ocean and for weeks while sharing the life raft with a Bengal tiger. The film starts of with an older Pi telling the story of his journey to a novelist who is looking for inspiration. He tells him of his life in India where he lives with his family and their business of owning a zoo. Pi’s father excepts a job in Canada so the family and the animals get packed on to a cargo ship and sail away. Of course there is a storm and Pi and his tiger are swept away and must now survive alone at sea. Newcomer Suraj Sharma gives a performance that should be hailed in the upcoming awards season. He’s incredible.

Director Ang Lee does what he does best, he tells a story in the most beautiful way possible. If you look back at Brokeback Mountain or Crouching Tiger you can see that the man and his cinematographers give you a visual story as intriguing as the written one. Lee has brought together a crew that makes him look the master he is. Screenwriter David Magee (Finding Neverland) has the difficult task of telling a story with very little dialog that is emotionally draining and joyfully triumphant…he does it well. Cinematographer Claudio Miranda and Editor Tim Squyres make magic with amazing scope but never letting the story lose it’s focus. The effects team give the film it’s fantasy that makes this much more than just a children’s story.

I was blown away by this film. I don’t usually become emotionally involved but the story is told so well i felt like a child with the covers pulled way up to protect myself from the waves and the tiger’s claws. Days later when i see the previews on TV i find myself longing for the story of Pi and his tiger as they search for home. After seeing the film i was so torn about the way Ang Lee ends the film asking the audience to choose how they’ve spent their last two hours…i know that i wished the tiger had turn to look at Pi one last time. That moment in film will always haunt me.