The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

3453454Swanner: Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi play two headlining Magicians on the Vegas Strip. As their Attendance starts to drop off and new magician comes to town that threatens status. I’m not sure about Brian but I hate Magicians. I hate all the drama and performance but after seeing this movie I have a better respect for them. I’m not saying I’d sit through a show but I get it now. I certainly didn’t expect the movie I saw based on the trailer. I expected a lot of goofiness but got a solid comedy.

Judd: I like magicians like Penn & Teller and I’ve been to a party with a “close-up” magician and enjoyed their skill, but I would never see a big show like David Copperfield. My taste in magic is actually pretty well correlated with this movie, it was much better when it dealt with its characters up close, but suffered in the bigger set pieces. It’s in these bigger set pieces that Carell and Jim Carrey, as Criss Angel-esque Steve Gray, are at their Carell and Carrey-est and it wears thin, fast.

Swanner: Did you notice how much Carell looks like Barry Manilow post face lifts? I was really expecting there to be so much more Carell and Carrey going on by what the trailer mislead me. I was really pleasantly surprised with how much it didn’t suck. Director Don Scardino (30 Rock) kept the performances in check, we know how Carrey gets when he’s not on a lease, and the screenplay by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (Horrible Bosses) was genuinely funny … also unexpected.

Judd: I, too, was pleasantly surprised about how much it didn’t suck , but that doesn’t mean I thought it was good. I thought the movie was terribly uneven, moving between redemptive schmaltz and subdued shenanigans. For the movie to have worked, there should have been a genuine emotional connection to Burt Wonderstone as an entertainer who’s lost the love of his craft. This is one of those weirdly inverted situations where the emotion is killed by the comedy, which felt shoehorned in.

Swanner: I think I liked it more than you. They got me with the Schmaltz. The Alan Arkin character was just too sweet and real. How does Arkin always do it? He plays the same character and it always works. I also like Olivia Wilde’s storyline. They always get me with the sentimental stuff. I agree that Wonderstone’s ego breakdown hurt the story instead of moving it. I would suggest this to any one that like Horrible Bosses or Identity Thief. It has the same unevenness but still delivers enough to make it worth the watch.

Judd: Identity Thief is a perfect comparison, however I think that Identity Thief struck a better balance between the comedy and the tears. We know Carell has the chops to carry both like McCarthy did, so I think the failing here was the direction and the script. I’m not sure what could have made it better, and I would recommend anyone wanting to see this to wait for rental.

Swanner: ***
Judd: **

The Call

Rotator_TheCallSwanner: When veteran 911 operator Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) receives a call from a girl (Abigail Breslin) who has just been abducted, she soon realizes that she must confront a killer from her past in order to save the girl’s life. This is a very intense thriller with a fast paced script from Richard D’Ovidio (Thir13en Ghosts) and Directed by Brad Anderson (Session 9) who knows how to keep you sucked in till the end.

Judd: The only word I picked up on in your spiel there was “sucked”, and I have to agree. The Call is a by-the-book revenge movie made on a shoestring budget featuring camerawork and editing that was “edgy” 10 years ago but now screams HACK! Blue-green flickering fluorescents and blurred close ups galore, this movie is about as nuanced and well-made as a hamburger from 7-11.

Swanner: I obviously had more fun with this movie than you did. Now as far as the by-the-book revenge movies go, this was a good one. Halle Berry found a good role for herself. She’s not the best actress and she really got a chance to shine. You also have Abigail Breslin as our kidnapped girl and a very creepy Michael Eklund as our kidnapper, both giving by-the-book performances but still good performances. The rest of the supporting cast was fine, except for that inquisitive trainee that I wanted to yell at for trying to grandstand with three lines.

Judd: You know that trainee was some producer’s nephew or lover. What a pointless role. The movie was a glorified direct-to-video mess, tailor made for Wal-Mart’s $5 bin. Our readers know that I love trashy movies, but this was inexcusably horrid, with no semblance of creativity or a cheeky nod to the audacity of its source material. You can’t polish a turd, and what normally makes movies like this fun is the director’s sense of humor. The Call has all the humor of a wake.

Swanner: This movie is not a turd. The acting is good and it moves really well. It’s a 96 minute thrill ride. Let face it, part of the reason you don’t like this film is because you sat next to a talker. That woman had more dialog then the movie did. I bet if you watched the movie again you’d like it a lot. The talker didn’t bother me because we were mirroring each other’s reaction through the film … I was just quieter about it. For our readers that like a solid action thriller I would definitely suggest this film… So there!!!

Judd: The Call is a big, fat, WWE produced dook. That’s right, World Wrestling Entertainment. Producers of classics like The Marine, The Chaperone, The Condemned, The Reunion, The Day and now, The Call. Such catchy titles! How do they do it? The only reason to see The Call is… There is no reason to see The Call.

Swanner: ***1/2
Judd: No Stars

Oz the Great and Powerful

34523456Swanner: You know when you take on a classic you’re always going to get your ass kicked by critics. Granted, this is a prequel to The Wizard of Oz but the comparison will be done. This shows us how the wizard gets to Oz based on L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. James Franco plays the wizard with Sam Raimi directing from a screenplay by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsey-Abaire.

Judd: Also starring Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams and Zach Braff, the cast is really good with the standout being Kunis. I felt the trepidation that I think most of the general public is feeling. You mentioned the first, being the comparison with the original; the second, for me, was the fact that I’m not a fantasy person – unless it’s really well done. Oz is really well done. The story, direction and production are all spot on. While it looks modern, and I could say there was too much CGI, it still looks very 1939 with the costumes and art-deco look of The Emerald City.

Swanner: I liked that right away they start the film in Black and White to tell us they are trying really hard to keep up with the classic look and fell. Of course once they get to Oz, the color comes up and we’re not in Kansas anymore. Once in Oz, the production design is beautiful (whether it’s real or CGI) and costumes have a familiar look. I felt like it was Thanksgiving and we were watching the original. I’ve never been a big fan of James Franco when he’s playing a character that isn’t James Franco but I did find myself finally coming around by the third act. I really like the Wizard’s assistant Finely (voiced by Braff and the China Doll (voiced by Joey King)

Judd: I like James Franco, but because he’s not Frank Morgan (the original) and doesn’t even try to be Frank Morgan, he was a little hard to adjust to whereas Kunis builds her character off the Margaret Hamilton foundation. And while Michelle Williams is no Billy Burke, Williams brings a depth to Glinda that Burke didn’t have. Regardless, I liked all the characters and I found the story to be very compelling. I’m looking forward to what comes next.

Swanner: Disney owns the library of Oz books, so if this does well you will see more. Since I haven’t read any of the Oz books I don’t know how well they kept to the story but I like how the wizard is developed. There are different kinds of magic and different kind of wizards. The film did have a very family oriented feel, but it is a family film, so I guess that’s to be expected…it still bugs me. I know some critics are going to hate this movie but I ask our readers to see the film if there’s and interest. I think you’ll be pleased.

Judd: Oz The Great and Powerful is an original work, but much like Wicked (the musical, not the horrid book) it’s a welcome addition and feels like it’s part of the original canon. There are other critics out there agreeing with you that it felt too “family” and that Sam Raimi, known for Evil Dead and Drag Me to Hell, should have gone a little edgier. Of course these are the same critics that complain when Tim Burton makes things too “dark”. I thought it struck a fine balance between appealing to children and adults and look forward to seeing it again.



Jack and the Giant Slayer

Swanner: I find it interesting that a lot of studios are jumping on the children’s story band wagon. Last month we got Hansel and Gretel, last year we had not one but two Snow Whites and this month we get Jack the Giant Slayer. They must think the only people going to see movies are 12-year-olds. That being said when you see these movies you have to remember who they are made for and watch them with the eyes of a child. This film is a perfect example. It’s fast paced action with a hint of a love story and all about the special effects.

Judd: Directed by Bryan Singer and starring Nicholas Hoult, Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci, Jack the Giant Slayer is light, early spring entertainment. The script is OK, the direction is good, but what I found distracting were the costumes. Jack was in a hoodie and a windbreaker, while McGregor’s hair always looked freshly coifed. I know it’s a niggling little thing, and I’m sure it was done with purpose of making 12 year old girls like Tom swoon.

Swanner: He was wearing a hoodie, now that you mention it, and it must say something for the film if the costumes were bothering you. McGregor sure did like to make sure that uniform was looked good…and it did. This is your updated Jack and the Beanstalk story where Jack acquires the beans, beanstalk grows but this time the kingdom’s Princess gets caught in the beanstalk, so it becomes a rescue the Princess story.

Judd: The action was good, but the plot and the pacing left something to be desired, which is why I noticed the modern costumes. There were several times the movie could have ended and picked up with a sequel, but it just kept plodding on. I think because the movie was meant for kids I had a hard time bonding with the characters. I say this being a huge Stanley Tucci fan. I love him, but in this case, I was left cold.

Swanner: The characters were a bit thin. He’s the bad guy and she’s the princess. Fairytales are more about the journey and less about the people taking it. The real stars here are the giants which I can’t believe we haven’t mention yet. The giants are very scary…in a fun way. The audience that this film was made for should really enjoy it. I noticed kids taking their pictures next to the standee in the lobby after the screening and that means return business. It’s not much a film for people looking for substance but the action and effects will keep the adults from being too bored.

Judd: It’s also a well-known fact that I am not a fan of the fantasy genre. While I feel extra curmudgeonly saying it, I don’t like fairytales either. I don’t even like The Princess Bride, and I think that’s my overall problem with Jack the Giant Slayer. Of course, I’m not the target audience for either movie. The giants are good, the cast is OK, the action comes fast and furious at the end, but would I recommend it? No, but then again, that’s just me.


Judd: ½