The Spectacular Now

3546566Judd: In the Spectacular Now, Sutter is 18 years old and enjoying the last moments of his days in high school. With a drink constantly in hand, he schmoozes, carouses and charms his way into all social circles. Sutter is Vince Vaughn in almost any Vince Vaughn movie. Oh, and that drink I mentioned? When I mean it’s constantly in hand, I mean that I could smell him from the screen and I imagine he smelled like Dean Martin or Foster Brooks. How his mother, teachers or boss didn’t realize this kid had a drinking problem is beyond me. One night after drunken revelry, Sutter finds himself on the lawn of The Good Girl, Aimee. His car is missing and asks Aimee to help him find it. Like Jack Lemmon offering Lee Remick her first Brandy Alexander, Sutter and Aimee enjoy the following days of wine and roses, until one tragic night…

I’m not going to give away the trauma, because it doesn’t really matter. It’s a plot device used to throw our character to his rock bottom without any real leading decline. After “The Scene” Sutter and Aimee are back in each other’s arms, planning their escape from their suffocating town while exchanging sips from a yellow solo cup.

Performances are acceptable, the best of the bunch being Shailene Woodley’s Aimee. Out of this Spectacular Mess, her character and performance comes across the most genuine, though once tipping back the flask with Sutter her character flattens and becomes the codependent mate. The script’s fault, not Woodley’s. Miles Teller gives us his best Vince Vaughn impression throughout the movie and it doesn’t help matters they kind of look alike. The rest of the cast is there, but ultimately unimportant.

The Spectacular Now has all the trappings of an indie film: poor, natural lighting; a twee soundtrack; and a Wes Anderson-inspired poster done in a Futura typeface. My peers are calling the Spectacular Now “authentic” and “complex” especially when compared to other “coming of age” movies. The fact that the characters act and talk like their 30 years old seems to have escaped them, as well as the fact that the conflict between Sutter and his father is so contrived that it makes Oedipus Rex seem fresh and new.

The Spectacular Now is a pointlessly indie movie made on a shoestring budget with the intention of adding charm. It’s pretentious, flat and contrived. If the fact that it’s a teenage movie that doesn’t revolve around sex knocks my contemporaries back on their heels, there’s as much wrong with the critics circle as there is with Hollywood.

Judd: 2 Stars

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You’re Next

Youre-Next2-585x389Swanner: A couple is brutally murdered in their secluded mountain getaway. The next day an anniversary party is going on next door and the killing hasn’t stopped. This late summer entry was actually shelved for two year but don’t let that fool you; this is a well-made horror film with lots of humor and blood. I was pleasantly surprised with its sharp wit and stylized filmmaking. Props go out to director Adam Wingard (V/H/S) and writer Simon Barrett (V/H/S) for transforming a tired genre and making it feel fresh.

Judd: Fresh, yet still an homage. You’re Next feels very much like a bloodier 80s slasher flick, right down to the synthesized score. The movie is an indie-flick at heart, but easily comes across as a Big Hollywood movie – though Big Hollywood could only dream of being so entertaining. With a cast of unknowns, either B-list actors or indie-slasher directors, this is truly and ensemble piece were the body count for the bad guys is just as high for the good guys. It’s a smart move and interesting, because it automatically doubles your body count.

Swanner: The only problem I had with the film was the cinematography. The shaky came in the first part of the film was bad … like distracting bad. When people are just talking to one another there is no need to shake. It’s almost like the film was shot in order and the camera operator was just getting used to the camera. Even some of the mediocre acting seems to improve as the show progresses. Even with the afore mention stumbles, by the end you’re just having fun.

Judd: The shaky cam is really a big strike against this movie; I hated the movie for the first 30 minutes. Once the carnage begins, everything gets much better. My friend — yes I know more people that just Tom — brought up an interesting observation. In most slasher films like this, the script and direction fills out the movie with our antagonists toying with the protagonist. My friend liked that our bad guys were only there to do a job, unfortunately for them, it turned out to be more difficult than planned.

Swanner: This was unexpected fun. It just clicked with me. When I realized this was a tongue in cheek horror film I started to have fun, too. When characters would do something stupid (we’ve all seen horror films so we know what not to do) we laugh when they die, and I did. As I said before, some of the acting in questionable but most are just pawns for the writer and director who are the real stars of this movie. Now I get to go back and see their older stuff. You’ll find me on Netflix the weekend.

Swanner: 3 stars
Judd: 3 Stars

Mortal Instruments: The City of Bones

mortal-instruments-city-of-bones-lily-collins-jamie-campbell-bowerSwanner: Last night I went to see the newest film trying to pull in that Twilight crowd, called Mortal Instruments. The film is about a teenage girl, Clary (Lily Collins), who learns that she descends from a line of warriors called Demon Hunters. After her mother is kidnapped by Demons, she joins forces with others like herself and heads into a dangerous alternate New York called Downworld. I swear this almost sounds like the storyline for Crusin‘ but that was the “downlow” and they weren’t demons, but I digress. Once involved she meets Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower), a young demon hunter with an English accent and greasy hair, who falls deeply in love with her even though he knows another loves her too. Are we feeling the Twilight 5 yet?

If you’re wondering, yes, there are vampires, witches, werewolves and demons. There will plenty of new characters to introduce if this film does well in theaters and becomes the franchise they are hoping it does. The film is based on Cassandra Clare’s adult fantasy novels called “Mortal Instruments” with this one being called “City of Bones”. This obviously is Sony’s stab at the Twilight market, but it’s placement in late summer tells me they aren’t hoping for much. There isn’t much star power with Collins, Lena Headey and Jonathan Rhys Meyers being the only recognizable names. The film is directed by Harald Zwart (the new Karate Kid) and written by Jessica Postigo who looks like she’s making her writing debut and it kind of shows. While doing some research I did see that there is already a sequel in production coming out in 2014. Oh, goody!

I really enjoyed the Potter series of films and I know there is a lot of teenage money out there but can’t we come up with something more than another angsty teenage girl who has two brooding teenage boys madly in love with her under the back drop of paranormal fantasy hell? Come on people, there has to be another storyline that someone can pull out of their ass! I will say that the acting is better than Twilight (for what that’s worth) and the production value is there, but I have to ask again if we need another series of angsty teenage fantasy films? I guess we’ll see when the box-office totals come in.

Swanner: 2 Stars

Planes

imagesSwanner: If you’ve been following our reviews Brian and I have not been fans of Pixar’s Cars movies. They play to a much younger audience and have very little entertainment value for adults. Disney had Pixar make Cars 2 because the merchandizing for Cars brought in over 3 billion dollars. So Disney, not Pixar, has brought Planes to the silver screen. Imagine the new merchandising possibilities. I can see the stock holders wringing their hands in delight. A crop duster named Dusty Crophopper wants to complete in an around the world race.

Judd: We had several overlapping movies this month, and I actually willingly chose to see Planes over something else. With a voice cast of Stacy Keach, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, John Cleese, Cedric the Entertainer, Anthony Edwards, Val Kilmer, Sinbad, Teri Hatcher, Brad Garrett, Carlos Alazraqui and Dane Cook how could I refuse? Those are some serious heavy hitters – and most of them only put five minutes of time in the studio. Stacy Keach was a main character, but I don’t even know who Edwards or Kilmer voiced. I felt seriously betrayed.

Swanner: I don’t watch an animated film for the voiceover actors. They better not be the only thing holding the film together. I like this film much better than Cars or its awful sequel Cars 2. It was better paced and didn’t waste time on character development in the supporting characters. All the supporting parts were stereotypes which is fine in this kind of a film. It’s a kid’s movie. They learn the lessons from the main characters and that’s it. One other thing Planes has over Cars is the running time. Both Cars movies were just under two hours where Planes flies in with a trim 92 minutes.

Judd: I liked the 92 minute runtime; however, I thought the pacing was poor and there could have been a little more development of the main characters. I couldn’t care less about the perils Dusty faced. They could have trimmed back on the extras (the big names) and given the core characters a little more to do. The fact that we just saw pretty much the same movie when we saw Turbo a month ago didn’t help matters. At least Mater didn’t show up.

Swanner: I was worried too that Mater or other Cars characters might show up…that was a happy surprise they didn’t. I must admit that the first 15 minutes I was worried about the movie. It looked and felt a lot like Saturday morning cartoons for really young kids. Once the race got going, the film won me over. I knew we weren’t going to get the depth of character we usually get in these films and like I said I’m glad for it. All that does is make the kids restless and the adults bored. I thought Planes soared above its earlier incarnations and found it to be a quick fun adventure.

Judd: As you said, Planes in nothing more than a Disney cash-in and it feels like it. It’s flat, boring and cheaply animated. It’s also going to make a ton of money through spin-offs and tie-ins. I just wish I wasn’t tempted into the theater with voice talent to watch a 92 minute toy commercial.

Swanner: 2 1/2 Stars
Judd: 1 Star

Blue Jasmine

Blue_JasmineJasmine (Cate Blanchett) had it all. An extremely wealthy husband, Hal (Ale Baldwin), and good standing in Manhattan social circles. Her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), a grocery clerk, lived across the country in San Francisco and made no demands. All Jasmine had to do was go to yoga and arrange benefit dinners. That is until her husband was busted for running a Ponzi scheme and was sent to jail. With all her assets seized and after suffering a nervous breakdown, Jasmine goes to live with her sister, interrupting her life with her boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale).

Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen’s return to heady dramas like Cassandra’s Dream and my personal favorite, Match Point. Allen takes it a step further to incorporate major elements of A Streetcar Named Desire. Where Streetcar focuses on the way Blanche destroys her sister’s home life, Blue Jasmine focuses on the mental deterioration of Jasmine, and I guarantee Blanchett is getting an Oscar nod, if not the win, for this performance. She conveys manic intensity throughout her whole performance as a woman on the verge of losing her mind. A woman who uses alcohol, willful ignorance and lies to create a world of her own at the expense of others. Like Match Point, where Allen made a despicable character sympathetic, Blue Jasmine takes a character that deserves sympathy, but she’s just so damn despicable.

The cast, also Including Andrew “Dice” Clay, Louis C.K., Max Casella, Alden Ehrenreich, and Peter Sarsgaard, is the very definition of a “Supporting Cast”. While all their performances are wonderful, as an ensemble they elevate Blanchett’s performance to something wonderful. I’m gushing, but it’s deserved.

The movie does have some issues, the scenes that don’t focus on Jasmine or the trouble she’s causing tend to lag, but not because of the talent. Ginger’s relationship problems, when treated outside of Jasmine, don’t carry much weight and fortunately those scenes are few and far between. San Francisco was wasted as a locale; the move could have taken place anywhere the obscenely wealthy and the working class live together. Allen usually uses his locations as its own character, New York, London Paris, but I didn’t get any of that from his San Francisco. Maybe it’s because I’m local.

Blue Jasmine is one of, if not the best movie I’ve seen this year. It may not be the freshest story, but Cate Blanchett acts circles around Vivian Leigh. I’m looking forward to the rainy day when I will have a Streetcar/Blue Jasmine double feature at home with my favorite bottle of Stoli.

Judd: 4 Stars

Elysium

ElysiumJudd: The year is 2125; the earth is polluted and overcrowded. The wealthy have built a space station named Elysium where they live in a paradise free from disease and squalor and they speak French, la langue de la classe supérieure, naturellement. The poor remain behind on earth and they all happen to be sick, handicapped and Latino (oh brother!) or they’re Matt Damon. Written and directed by District 9’s Neill Blomkamp, Blomkamp puts aside the nuanced story-telling of a politically charged subject and goes for heavy-handed propaganda.

Swanner: In Greek mythology Elysium is a place of Ideal happiness. A place when heroes live, or in this case, those who can afford it. The bulk of the film takes place in Los Angeles where everyone speaks Spanish, but not everyone was Latino…but it was close. Matt Damon plays a man who has been in and out of system his whole life but has been trying to become a good citizen. After a radiation accident that has left him with just a few days to live he must find some way to get to Elysium where they could save his life, but can only achieve that by breaking the law.

Judd: The Latinos, I mean the poor, are constantly trying to illegally get into Elysium for a better life and healthcare but Big Bad Meanie Jodie Foster, who Blomkamp told to crank it up to 11, is the Secretary of Defense and her idea of national security and immigration reform is a mercenary, Sharlto Copley, with guided missiles. The problem I had with the movie, besides it’s propagandizing, is that the whole thing was riddled with plot holes and inconsistencies. Damon is supposed to be on the brink of death; one minute he’s running from the law, the next he’s collapsing in wheezy agony, only to get back up and starting fighting Robocop. He steals encrypted data that any scofflaw can read just by looking at it, but the good guys need to decrypt it first. Don’t even get me started on the number of children on the supposedly dying earth. Let’s just say it’s obvious that 150 years in the future the Catholic Church still hasn’t changed its views on birth control and some people haven’t learned to pull out yet.

Swanner: Oh Brian…really? Yes, there are plenty of plot holes, but my guess is that the guy who green lit two take over the White House movies the same year probably served as editor of this film. A 97 minute sci-fi summer movie? There is at least 30 minutes missing here. I did like the encrypted data storyline…maybe the poor folks have better technology. Jodie Foster played her role the way any good Fox News watcher would. Her attitude is if the poor don’t like their lives they can just die. Seems pretty simple and straight forward to me.

Judd: Simple is the exact word I’d use for Elysium. If I had the chance I would have walked out. The direction was awful, the action was headache inducing and the script was tres gauche, as Mademoiselle Foster would have said. It’s the perfect August release, hopefully buried and quickly forgotten. The only reason it’s not a No Star movie is because of the runtime. I give it a quarter star.

Swanner: This movie wasn’t that bad…and you can’t give a ¼ of a star. Now you’re just being silly. The film still moved well and, yes, you have to forgive a lot here but I was entertained. Damon’s manic behavior was due to the medication he was on. The medic said he would act normal till he died if he stayed on his meds. The performances were good if a bit broad and the special effects were very good considering the budget. I’ll give you the shaky cam but other than that, it’s a fine August action release.

Swanner: 2 Stars
Judd: ¼

We’re the Millers

1375802764000-AP-FILM-REVIEW-WE-RE-THE-MILLERS-57447294-1308062215_4_3Swanner: When a drug dealer is robbed of his weed and his money he is told by his supplier that he can pay off his debt by smuggling more weed in from Mexico. Yes, this is the plot of We’re The Miller’s. The Drug Dealer (Jason Sudeikis) hires a group of neighbors who are down on their luck to pose as his family to fool the border guards. Jennifer Aniston , Emma Roberts and Will Poulter are his family and Ed Helms plays his egocentric drug supplier.

Judd: An early August comedy starring Jennifer Aniston? Uh oh! The only thing this movie has going for it is the R rating. But like it’s peers, The Change-Up and Wanderlust –released in February, which is like August in winter – We’re the Millers isn’t a bad movie, per se, it just isn’t a very good movie. Most of the comedy comes from The Millers meeting up with the Fitzgerald family, Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn; Midwesterners with pure Americana innocence and tastes that clash with the city folk from Denver. There are some funny scenes, but not enough to carry through 110 minutes.

Swanner: It really is the cast that makes this show. The writing is nothing special and the only reason it worked at all is because the cast knows how to work with a mediocre script. There were four writers who have done good work in the past with Wedding Crashers, She’s out of My League and Sex Drive…one would expect more. The film was directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber who directed Dodgeball so it’s not like the talent wasn’t there. I once again noticed is that Ed Helm is really one of the funniest actors working in film. I loved him since his days on The Daily Show and was so disappointed when they made him boring and forgettable in The Hangover 3.

Judd: The thing that makes this movie interesting, but also keeps it from working, is that it’s a raunchy family comedy. None of the Millers are related to each other, it’s a scam, but they still have “family moments”. Sudeikis teaches Poulter about girls; Anniston and Sudeikis worry about their “daughter” dating a mentally challenged carnie. The movie flits back and forth between spiteful antipathy and “heartwarming “ parent-child moments. The ending is where this dichotomy really falls apart and become totally unbelievable.

Swanner: You’re right. It is a raunchy family comedy. There are also the times when they are perceived as a family like when Aniston and Roberts are showing Poulter how to kiss and of course get caught. There are lots of those moments and most are pretty funny. This is defiantly one of those films being drunk or high would really send this film over the top. Like Horrible Bosses or Bad Teacher…being in an altered state would make this movie better. If you have to see it sober lower your expectation and you should have a pretty good time.

Judd: Special mention has to go to Jennifer Aniston who, at 44 years old, still has a rocking body. Her hard work and maintenance does not go unnoticed or unappreciated.

Swanner: 2 Stars
Judd: 2 Stars