Judd: Martin Sixsmith, an author, BBC newscaster and political adviser was resigned from his post by the Blair administration after being misquoted about the 9/11 tragedies. During his time figuring out his future, he meets a woman, Philomena Lea, who spent her youth in Magdelene Laundries after giving birth out of wedlock. It was not unusual for unwed Irish mothers in the 1950s to be taken in by a convent, put into forced labor and have their children adopted—aka sold—to rich American parents. Catholic compassion at its best. While the movie, Philomena, combines some of the steps and persons involved in Philomena’s life, the situation was real and the current facts outshine the small tweaking done to the past.

Steve Coogan, who in my eyes has had a very hit and miss career, not only expertly plays Martin Sixmith, but gets screenwriting credit as well. Judi Dench plays Philomena. While the role isn’t meaty enough for an Oscar nomination, Dench portrays Philonmena’s inner-turmoil with deft subtlety. Philomena is torn between blaming herself and the church for her situation, and even in her blame of the church, she maintains that they “had the best intentions.” The conflict is not only hers, internally, but also between Philomena and Sixsmith. Sixmith is a vocal atheist and has no qualms calling out the Church on its transgressions. Philomena needs Sixsmith’s help but she’s dubious of his motivations.

The movie takes an unexpected and surprising gay turn when we find out that Philomena’s son turned out to be Michael Hess, a closeted gay lawyer for the Reagan administration. Much like how the Catholic Church treated women like Philomena “for their own good,” gays still alive from that time remember all too well how Reagan treated us during his time in office. Well, not me. I’m far too young—but Tom remembers. It’s an uncanny coincidence between Philomena’s fate and her son’s; Lives dictated and skewed by the baseless morality of others.

I won’t go into the movie any further, as I’m already teetering on spoilers, but Philomena is a fantastic movie that demonstrates a mother’s love for her son. The script is excellent and does not give in to exploitation or melodrama. Stephen Frears, the director, keeps the movie moving along at the perfect pace and never wallows in moments a lesser director would capitalize on for emotional impact.

Judd: 4 Stars

The Best Man Holiday

Swanner: It’s Christmastime in Hollywood and here comes the holiday movies. These are the films that (hopefully) become classics and people show every year. First out of the gate is The Best Man Holiday. This sequel of The Best Man brings back the original cast, all a bit older, to celebrate Christmas Best Man style. With an All-Star African American cast, this sweet romantic dramady brings the characters together for a week of rediscovery, love and tragedy that draw them all even closer. Malcolm D. Lee serves as director and writer of this lovely and funny film.

Judd: Sporting a black all-star cast of Morris Chestnut, Taye Diggs, Regina Hall, Nia Long, Harold Perrineau, Melissa De Sousa and Monica Calhoun, The Best Man Holiday is a very big movie that should appeal to a white—I mean, a wide audience. The Best Man Holiday avoids the clichés that others like Tyler Perry and TD Jakes use as foundations for every movie they make. No one is in drag. No one is contemplating their marriage and how it relates to Jesus. Family is not the answer. The Best Man Holiday is about a group of friends reunited and overcoming obstacles present and past—which we are reminded of during opening credits.

Swanner: I thought they did a good job of catching the audience up. I didn’t see the original, but I had no problem understanding what had happened in the past. I thought the script was really good, even though it ran a bit long. The film is actually just two hours, but it felt longer because it was heavy on character development and they had blackouts where the film let you know what day it was, which tends to make the film seem even longer. I will let you know I was inches away from sobbing through the last 30 minutes of the film. Thankfully the thought of having Brian ridicule me kept me strong, with just a single tear flowing down my left cheek for the last quarter of the film.

Judd: The one “black movie” cliché that The Best Man Holiday did fall prey to was trying to cram too many story lines into one movie. X is a strong woman who is not ready to love. Y is a drama queen looking to stir the dirt. A and B are broke with a baby on the way, and she’s miscarried every time before. C and B are fighting over something in the past. C and D are facing a life-changing illness. E and F are also facing financial ruin for something F did in the past. Y hates F because she loves E. It’s too much. Save something for the third installment … The Best Man Vacation or something like that. There’s no need to cram 10 pounds of story into a 5 pound bag. Not everything needs to be as broad as The Color Purple.

Swanner: Nicely done—that’s what I was trying to say earlier with “it was heavy on character development” but you have 8 main characters that all need a conflict. I liked the movie a lot after walked in dreading watching it. All the performances are good and of course two hours of Taye Diggs smile and Morris Chestnuts bare torso is always a delight. Will this become a Christmas classic? Only time will tell. But for audiences looking for some holiday cheer, The Best Man Holiday a gift worth opening.

Judd: The Best Man Holiday is not my type of movie, but I know it will satisfy those who do. I hope it does well at the box office and I hope that it finds its target audience regardless of race. It is well written and acted; the direction is a bit stale, but not hokey and it carries its emotional heft with sincerity.

Swanner: 3 Stars
Judd: 3 Stars

Delivery Man

Swanner: Delivery Man follows David (Vince Vaughn), a down on his luck loser who can’t do anything right until he finds out that he has fathered 533 children though sperm donations he gave out 20+ years earlier. Of these kids, 142 are suing to find out his identity. Boy, are they going to be disappointed. Based on a French Canadian film called Starbuck (that was his alas at the sperm clinic), director Ken Scott, who also serves as screenwriter, makes one huge mistake here: casting Vaughn in the role.

Judd: I can’t imagine this movie would be any better without him. I had no problems with Vaughn outside of the fact that none of his children looked like him. He plays the same man/boy he plays in all his films, except this time he’s not as slick. The reason this movie doesn’t work is that the conflicts are meaningless. We are given heavy topics like mob-debt, heroin addiction and severe cerebral palsy, and all of them disappear with no further address. Delivery Man is the most pointless movie I’ve ever seen.

Swanner: It’s true that all the bad things are magically wiped away when he learns to love children. I agree with how the film is just ridiculous with plot holes, but I think they wouldn’t have bothered me as much it I had any emotional tie with Vaughn. He character is such a loser that it and his man/boy acting style just kept me from any investment with him or the movie. The rest of the actors are fine … especially Chris Pratt, but Vaughn being the main character left me high and dry.

Judd: I did like how the movie addressed what monsters children can be and I have a feeling that was the French-Canadian script coming through. Here in America children are darling angels and we need to show them all the beauty they possess inside. Delivery Man has the nerve to show us the flip side of that coin. While I see where you’re coming from with Vaughn, I felt his children were introduced like game show contestants and, to me, that’s where the movie faltered.

Swanner: This movie is a mess. Why are all these kids looking for their biological father? Never addressed. Why is he in debt to the mob? Never addressed. Why are all his friends and family sticking with him over all these years? Addressed, but I don’t believe it since he’s a loser bum that only thinks about himself. This feels like a TV movie in both plot and overall product — I’m talking Hallmark Channel not HBO. It’s not as terrible as Brian says it is, but it’s also not very good either. Wait for cable on this one.

Swanner: 1 Star
Judd: No Stars

Hunger Games 2: Catching Fire

Swanner: When I left the first installment of the Hunger Games I was underwhelmed. I didn’t like the fact that a movie made for young adults had children killing each other as sport for the government. I also had big problems with the cinematography because the “shaky” camera doesn’t work if I don’t know what’s happening. To my surprise, those elements are gone. The film starts out as Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are starting their victory tour of the districts. While traveling from district to district it becomes obvious that a revolution is coming and President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is sure Katniss is what’s fueling this reaction.

The twist comes when Snow and his new right hand man Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) come up with the idea of celebrating the 75th anniversary of the games with an “all-star” Hunger Games – where past winners will come back to compete. Based on the novel by Suzanne Collins, screenwriters Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) and Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3) have created a fast paced and highly emotional script that literally left me wanting more. I remember leaving the first film feeling relief that it was over, yet here they could have moved into book three and I’d have had no problem with it.

I was glad to see that director Francis Lawrence is going to be at the helm for the last two films. Keeping the same director worked for the final Harry Potter movies and after seeing Catching Fire, the consistency should work here as well. I loved that the film was darker with the governments growing concern over the rebellion as well as the anger from the past winners who were promised they’d never have to compete again. Catching Fire still has the same great sense of style from the first film, everything looks good from the sets to the costumes.

I know this series gets compared to the Twilight films but the big difference here is its cast of terrific actors. As tense as the film is, there is an element of excitement as we see that change is on its way. At the end I felt the way you feel when you’re watching a season of a really good series and you know you can get at least one more episode in before bed. I’m hooked damn it. Good news is the next two films come out the next two years so we don’t have to wait too long.

Swanner: 4 Stars

Last Vegas


Judd: 70 year old Billy proposes to his 32 year old bride while giving the eulogy at his friend’s funeral. From there he decides to get his
Michael Douglas is Billy and Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline are his friends. Does it matter that I don’t give their character names? Not really. De Niro’s depressed because his wife is dead, Freeman is treated like an invalid by his son, and Kline as lost the spark in his marriage. Yes, Last Vegas is sticking to a tried and true formula. No need to shake things up. Add a little conflict when we find out that De Niro is pissed that Douglas didn’t come to his wife’s funeral – the reason for which is broadcast on the wall, but we’re teased that “It’s complicated.” It’s not. The secondary conflict comes when it looks like history might repeat itself.childhood friends together for a bachelor party set against the backdrop of Las Vegas. As much as that sounds like the setup for a geriatric version of The Hangover, Last Vegas steers away from the expected debauchery and tells a story of a late-life grudge and two men’s love for the same woman. It’s a story about as old as the cast, but the target audience is going to eat it up … at four in the afternoon … and delight in its soft, gummable texture.

Directed by Jon Turteltaub, director of the National Treasure franchise and written by Dan Fogelman, writer of Crazy, Stupid, Love and The Guilt Trip, Last Vegas moves much like a sitcom, and again, for the target audience, this is a good thing. I thought it was interesting that the movie touched on open marriages with Kline’s wife giving him permission to fool around, hoping to rekindle their own romance. I can think of less “edgy” ways of using the Horny-Old-Guy cliché. I thought it was a pretty gutsy subplot for something written to appeal to Peoria. The rest of the movie either jokes about how out-of-touch old people are, how capable they still are, or how youngsters can learn a thing or two from old folk.

Last Vegas is a safe, disposable movie that will be almost as well loved by its target audience as Bucket List. The cast is famous; however, none of their performances are noteworthy. Not that they need to be, Last Vegas will buy them all a new Bentley with enough left over for a tank of gas, and that’s all that really matters when you make a movie like this. It’s not bad, it’s not good, it’s just there to make money. And regardless of what I or any other critics out there say, it will make money and probably a ton of it.

Judd: 2 ½ Stars

Thor: The Dark World

Thor-The-Dark-World-Movie-2013-Review-Official-Trailer-Release-Date-1Swanner: Thor and the good people of Asgard are battling against an evil elf who is trying to turn all worlds into darkness in Thor: The Dark World. Will Thor save the day?! I certainly hope so … if not the solar panels on my roof are going to prove to be a bad investment.

Judd: An evil elf turning the worlds into darkness? Isn’t that the exact same plot as the first Thor? Why yes, it is! While the first Thor was barely palatable, using humor and Thor as a fish-out-of-water punch line; Thor: The Dark World, abandons all that and takes our comic book hero into full-blown Fantasy territory. Our faithful readers know how I feel about fantasy. To recap for our new readers: Fantasy is a genre where time is invested in creating worlds and wondrous visuals at the expense of unique and interesting characters. Thor is no exception.

Swanner: I thought Thor was fighting the frost giants the last time. They were doing something with darkness as well but they weren’t elves. I do love that way they are syncing all the films together. They even have the TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. playing along. I understand that someone who doesn’t like fantasy films wouldn’t like these films but for those that do there’s a lot to love here. Director Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones) keeps a nice balance of serious action sequences but still keeps it light enough so things don’t get too Shakespearian.

Judd: Elves. Giants. What difference does it make outside of shoe size? I’m seeing the word Shakespearian a lot when hearing about Thor. What the hell is so Shakespearian? Two brothers fighting for a crown? Yawn. The worst thing about Thor is that the whole movie relies on coincidence to drive the plot. Natalie Portman just happens to stumble across the Aether – don’t ask, it doesn’t matter — which was supposedly hidden so that no one would find it. Characters pop in and out of worlds, conveniently landing just where they needed to be. Most of the movie takes place on Asgard, but the whole thing comes to a head in London, where Portman is residing for no discernible reason. The whole movie is a contrived stretch.

Swanner: I will admit it was coincidental that Portman is teleported to the Aether, but then how else would she get involved back in Thor’s life without becoming the script’s drug mule? I know it’s full of over the top performances and some laughable dialog but it’s a movie built around a comic book hero that carries a big hammer. It’s meant to be fun. People like Thor (Chris Hemsworth) because he’s a good guy who needs to go shirtless more often. I had a good time and I think most people will too.

Judd: Thor is a lame character. The first movie kind of made that the joke. This one tries to make Thor a real character, but he’s not interesting. He’s a fantasy trope about as nuanced as the hammer he carries. When the next Thor movie is released, I’m staying home and staring at a Yes album cover for 114 minutes. It will be more entertaining and I won’t have to put up with the comedy styling of Kat Dennings.

Swanner: 3 Stars
Judd: 1 ½ Stars

Ender’s Game

harrison-ford-enders-game315Swanner: In the near future, a hostile alien race has attacked Earth. After winning the war and sending the aliens back to their planet Earth prepares for another attack. In preparation, Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) and the International Military, are training only the best young minds to lead the fight. 50 years since the attack the military knows the aliens have once again built up their army and Earth must find a leader. In walks Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield). Ender is a 12-year-old computer game wiz who has a great strategy for the war games … so of course he’s perfect to lead the attack.

The film starts off with Ender being an underdog; the other students don’t like him because he’s small but smart. After taking out two bullies Graff realizes Ender has the killer instinct he needs to commit genocide on these aliens. This film plays a bit young for me. It was hard to side with any of the adults and the kids are barely developed past Ender. I should have been able to side with Ender but he’s played coldly by Butterfield, so I understand him but I can’t invest.

That just leaves the story which asks the moral question on if you can commit genocide on a population and still sleep at night. This movie is for teenagers, but has some pretty hefty themes. The film is written and directed by Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine). He creates a real world and paces the film nicely. The script has some good moments and certainly had me as angry as Ender was at the end. The film has a great look to it which will please the core audience. The epilogue didn’t offer me any comfort, it just felt like a lead in to the next book. All the acting is decent with Ford and Butterfield leading the pack. The film also stars Hailee Steinfeld, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis and Abigail Breslin.

I’m not going to let my feeling about the book’s author affect my reviews of the film but I will let you know what they are. The novel was written by Orson Scott Card and if you don’t know about him, you should. He has spoken in great length about his disgust of homosexuals so much as to say the government should be overturned for supporting same sex marriage. In the novel, Enders Game, he refers to the aliens as Buggers. “Bugger” in England, of course, is a slang word for anal sex, most commonly associated with gay men … you remember, the ones he writes Earth needs to commit genocide on. While his character Ender feels regret for his actions, Card doesn’t. It seems very hypocritical. He tells the audience it’s not right to destroy the buggers … after they already have. What kind of message it that for children?

Teenagers and younger will probably look past the message and enjoy the special effects where adults will be left empty at the end. Overall, I really didn’t like the film because only Ender felt remorse for what happened and that sends a bad message. Granted if my house was being infested termites I’d want to kill them all. Too. But I won’t go out looking to kill them as a preventative measure.

Now look who’s all moral …

Swanner: 1 Star