Walking With Dinosaurs

Swanner: Walking with Dinosaurs is the $80M CGI movie that claims you’ll feel like you are right there with the dinosaurs. The story follows Patchi, who we see go from baby to adult and from underdog to hero in the span of 80 minutes. Is this the perfect Christmas film to spend your money on? Maybe if you have some 5-year-old boys around, but for everyone else it’s just The Land Before Time but half as entertaining.

Judd: 80 minutes? The movie was only 80 minutes? Are you sure it wasn’t 180 minutes? While the movie was beautiful to watch, with stunning cinematography and scenery that nature documentarian Neil Nightingale made sure of, the movie itself was very poor. The writing by John Collee is a Filmmaking 101 script that relies heavily on scatological humor to fill in the lulls in dialogue. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good poop joke, but I’ll take one joke with a proper splash rather than a dozen dry little nuggets.

Swanner: It felt like I was watching a “Let’s learn about Dinosaurs” documentary that’s geared toward very young children. The storyline has these dinosaurs migrating to the south and then back to the north. I’m not sure how many times this happened because after a while I got caught up in contemplating my own death. We do see the young dinosaurs grow up and we see them fighting for placement in the heard. My favorite part is we see the females only ambition is to become mate to the leader. Always a good lesson for a young girl — marry for power.

Judd: I liked the “Let’s Learn” aspect with each character being introduced by a voice-over stating the Latin name and the meaning. I thought that was fun for both adult and child, but the lack of narrative bogged the movie down. You mentioned the movie covering several migrations, while I felt like it covered only two. That is a serious problem with the script if the viewer can’t get a sense of time. Sure, what 5-year-old is going to notice or care? But that 5-year-old isn’t driving himself to the theater and paying for his own ticket. You mention the female lead marrying for power — while it seemed to me she didn’t have much choice in the situation. She was literally a trophy bride. I hear she spends most of the sequel barefoot and pregnant.

Swanner: I’m sure there were other ugly dinosaurs that the leader of the pack could have settled with but I digress. The other big problem I had was that we heard the dinosaur’s voices but their mouths didn’t move. Granted dinosaurs didn’t talk, but they also weren’t telepathic either. I think in this day and age if the creatures are speaking to each other their lips should move. It’s just lazy filmmaking. Maybe this epic was supposed to be narrated and it just didn’t work out, but as far as I’m concerned, this didn’t work out either. I’m very surprised this film is coming out for Christmas. It stinks of direct-to-video and that’s where I’d suggest you see it.

Judd: How do you know they didn’t speak telepathically? Never mind, you were in your teens then. I forgot. The film had bigger problems than dinos with ESP. The kiddies are going to love it, but the adults are going to be staring at their watches and timing the intervals between fecal references. The story isn’t nearly engrossing enough, and beautiful scenery and expensive CGI doesn’t a blockbuster make – unless it’s written and directed by James Cameron. The movie looks too expensive to be direct-to-video, but the script is certainly stop-motion.

Swanner: 1 Star
Judd: 1 Star

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Wolf of Wall Street

Swanner: One thing that bothers Brian and I more than anything else is this need to release ridiculously long movies during the holiday season. All but one of last year’s Best Picture nominees were all over two hours. Granted this year’s wasn’t as bad but I did get stuck seeing the longest of them all — Wolf of Wall Street. Of course, when you mix in director Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas) and writer Terrence Winter (The Sopranos) it all makes sense, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. The film follows Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) a stockbroker who has figured out a way to cheat the system, his clients and his friends. The first two hours are his rise to the top, leaving the last hour to watch his fall.

I don’t like gangster movies and while this isn’t a mob film, it felt like it was — remember the Scorsese/Sopranos connection. As I said, the beginning is all about how easy it was for him to cheat people — so easy that he teaches his buddies to do it, too. His business keeps getting bigger and bigger to the point he’s got so much money he doesn’t know what to do with it or himself. This character is such a scumbag it was hard for me to watch as he’s taking peoples life savings and then throwing a party after to celebrate. Once the Feds get involved (in the third hour) It gave me a bit of a second wind but it just made Belfort look for different ways to steal. I know Scorsese likes these kinds of characters, but they mostly just piss me off.

I don’t want to make it sound like a bad movie because it’s not. It’s very well made and the acting is great. The sets and the cinematography are Oscar worthy. The problem here is the length of the film and the approach to the main character. Scorsese could have said more with less. The endless partying, the hookers and drug use. The sales meetings which usually end up with all the characters partying again and Jonah Hill pulling out his penis to urinate on something. It felt like a drunken fraternity party that I wasn’t invited to but I could watch through a window. To me that’s no fun. The film tries to call itself a comedy but it’s really more on an American tragedy. Most of us have our retirement in the stock market so watching these conmen getting rich with our dollars does not entertain me — it infuriates me. (I had a lot of time to stew on this over my three hour celluloid trek.) The last bit of narrative being spoken as the film closes just proved to be another slap in the face to the movie-goer. I just couldn’t warm up to this anti-hero so my three hours was like a prison sentence Belfort will never get.

Swanner: 1 ½ Stars

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Judd: Walter Mitty was introduced into the American lexicon in 1939 when James Thurber penned the short story: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. From then the name Walter Mitty has become a figure of speech for a person who enhances or escapes the mundane with their imagination. Ben Stiller stars and directs in 2013’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. In this iteration, Walter is a negative asset manager for Life Magazine. Translation: He’s a very important file clerk. The magazine is about to shut its doors and Walter has the negative for the last cover — except he doesn’t and needs to track down the photographer, Sean Penn, to get it. Putting aside all his day dreams and flights of fantasy, Walter embarks on a real adventure where he jumps from a helicopter, skateboards toward an active volcano on the cusp of eruption and ascends the Himalayas.

Had it been put in more capable hands than that of Ben Stiller, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty could have been something more than an emotionless string of montages set to an indie soundtrack. Mitty’s motivation for embarking on his adventure is never spelled out; it just so happens he can afford it. The secondary characters include Kristen Wiig as Walter’s coworker and love-interest and Adam Scott as Walter’s new boss who was brought in to shut down the magazine. Is Walter embarking on his new life because of the girl? For himself? Or because he’s afraid of getting fired, which is inevitable? The question is left unanswered and not in a deliberate way.

The cinematography and scenery is gorgeous, but many times Stiller mimics Wes Anderson with his use of extreme closeups on a stoic face and monotone color palate. This wouldn’t be so insulting if the movie also didn’t feature distracting product plugs for eHarmony, Cinnabon and Papa John’s Pizza. Going for the indie hipster vibe only makes the commercialism more blatant – and no, it wasn’t “ironic.”

Stiller’s performance as Mitty is acceptable, but Wiig, Scott, Shirley MacLaine, and Kathryn Hahn are all wasted, particularly MacLaine as Walter’s mother. She’s a widow with an emotional tie to a piano that’s never explored. Why go to the extent of creating the back story if it’s left open? Kathryn portrays Walter’s sister, but she has no reason to exist. There was also the distinct feeling of retro throughout the movie — another nod to Anderson, I’m sure, just as Penn’s use of actual film, rather than digital and his refusal to carry a cell phone, not to mention Life Magazine and professional photojournalism is definitely retro. A strong foundation for an interesting movie was there and waiting to be built upon if only Stiller hadn’t wasted 20 minutes of film stock playing soccer with Sherpas and other such self-centered nonsense.

At the end of the day, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is an inoffensive, expensive yet forgettable piece that could have been much better had Stiller 1) not made it all about him and 2) hadn’t bastardized Wes Anderon’s style with plugs for pizza and online dating.

Judd: 2 Stars

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Judd: In 2004, Ron Burgundy hit the screens representing a non-specific time in the 70s when the local news anchor was the most trusted man on television. I recently re-watched the movie and thought, “What the hell did people think was so funny about this?” Anchorman 2 picks up where the first left off, except now Ron is tasked to anchoring the 2 – 5 a.m. segment of the world’s first 24-hour cable news station. Ron, Brian, Brick and Champ return to revolutionize the way America watches its news in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.

Swanner: Wow … you almost make it sound better than it was. Yes, Will Farrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell and David Koechner have all returned to breathe new life into this very old concept. The idea of using 24-hour news was really smart because that is when news lost all credibility and who better to ruin a good thing then Ron Burgundy. The film still relies on crude racist, bigoted, and misogynist humor to get laughs — but just not enough.

Judd: The issue I had with the first film is its lack of structure and the fact that director Adam McKay let the cast run wild and say whatever. That never works. McKay is back at the helm, but this time he curbs his casts endless riffing and the movie feels tighter as a result. The time period, moving forward into the non-specific late 70s to very early 80s, also allows for more diversity in the cast with actress Meagan Good playing Ron’s black, female producer. Sadly, Christina Applegate is largely pushed to the side and kept out of the fun and games and I found that to be very unfortunate.

Swanner: My favorite thing about the film was the soundtrack. Every pop standard they played for ‘78 through ‘83 was great — I can probably create the soundtrack from my own collection. I just checked the soundtrack list and most of the album is things Ron Burgundy says in the film … another disappointment. It probably means we’ll be listening to people’s cell phone trying to be funny, as well. Damn you technology! Applegate’s role being reduced just gives Ron and the boys more time to stand around and think they’re funny. What little time Applegate has are some of the funniest things in the film.

Judd: The soundtrack is AMAZING! Even those who aren’t going to see the movie should log onto IMDb so they can write down the track listing and create their own Anchorman 2 album. One thing that I really liked about the movie was the overall theme about how today’s news is a sensationalized circus, which you already mentioned. But l like that they addressed that there was a time when journalists researched the “facts” before spouting off unsubstantiated speculation and the fact that you can’t trust a news source when it’s owned by a large corporation. I think it’s especially important today when the most unbiased news you can find comes from Comedy Central.

Swanner: That’s an excellent point. The movie does have a social message that I’m sure it will be missed by the fans of Ron Burgundy or even more so fans of Will Farrell. This movie will entertain anyone that liked the first one. One last thing, the movie was produced by Judd Apatow and it comes in under 2 hours so maybe that’s the silver lining here.

Swanner: 2 Stars
Judd: 2 Stars

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Swanner: Last night I went to see the latest Hobbit film, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The film continues the adventure of the title character Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as he journeys with the Wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan) and thirteen Dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) on an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor. Before you know it Gandalf leaves to start a journey of his own leaving the boys to deal with spiders, Orcs, the lake people and a very pissed off dragon.

These kinds of films are easy to review because everything that happens is pretty much a set up for the third installment which comes out next year. As Brian would say about one of those boring independent films he loves so much … it’s the journey. The difference here is that this new Hobbit film is anything but boring. I know people were disappointed in the first installment because it seemed like Peter Jackson was stretching out the film just to make a really long movie — can we ever forgive him for the singing dwarfs tossing plates? Probably not, but this film definitely has them back on track. I will let you know that Brian lasted over 40 minutes into the film so maybe he’s pulling away from the dark side and learning to like fantasy films.

This Hobbit has us meeting with old friends and making new ones. I love the way screenwriters give us such rich characters. All the dwarfs are different and each new person brings something to the story. Once again the special effects are awesome along with the sets, costumes and make-up. If I had any complaints it would be that the score seemed to flare up over the dialogue a few times. The character would be having a revelation but … I’m not really sure what it was. Otherwise Jackson is back and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has me itching for the third film: There and Back Again. I will warn you that at the end of the film the screen goes black and than lights up with Peter Jackson’s credit, the audience gave a collective, “Noooo!” It’s going to be a long year in-between films.

In the meantime, all you fan boys can throw on your costumes, head to the theater and love this spectacular breathtaking film.

Swanner: 3 ½ Stars

Dallas Buyers Club

 Swanner: Usually when there isn’t a screening for a film, Brian and I don’t review the movie after the fact. However, Dallas Buyers Club is different not only because it has Oscar buzz, but its storyline deals with our community. The year is 1985 and Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) is a man who circumvents the U.S. medical system to help people with HIV get the medication they need after he is diagnosed with the disease himself. This film really surprised me because it told me about events that happened during a time I lived through and yet never had any idea about.

Judd: A Buyers Club — for those who don’t know — was an organization dedicated to getting the drugs that were either illegal or not FDA approved. At the time AZT was the only drug approved for treating the virus and as we know now, it was only slightly better than d-Con. These clubs relied on friendly doctors from other countries and sympathetic big-Pharma moonlighting chemists; the clubs were basically drug smuggling rings who then provided their dues paying members the alternative medicines at no cost. There were clubs in all the major metropolises. The Dallas Buyers club was notorious for going above and beyond what the other clubs would do to get these medications. Ron Woodroof was a true drinkin’, smokin’, cussin’ outlaw cowboy who would go to almost any length to get the pills and fight the lawman.

Swanner: What I loved about Woodroof was that you never know, as least from the film, if he was a good guy or a bad guy. Was he getting these drugs out of doing what’s right or was he there for the profit? McConaughey played him that way — and played the crap out of him. I’ve had a love hate relationship with McConaughey for years and just when I had given up on him as just a guy who got some good roles early on and has been collecting checks — he does an amazing performance for what I would guess was very little money. The script was written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack and directed by Jean-Marc Vallee.

Judd: Jared Leto also makes a return to the screen after a several-year hiatus and proves that he can deliver as powerful a performance as McConaughey. Leto has always tiptoed the line of being a fantastic actor but has also carried the tarnish of pretentiousness. Here, he proves that while he may be a hipster douche, he has the chops to pulls off an amazing role as Rayon, a drug addicted transsexual. I don’t know if Rayon really existed or was a device to assist in Ron’s transformation from intolerant homophobe to compassionate supporter, but Leto makes her about as real as any person can be.

Swanner: Agreed. I’m happy to see both have received critic awards and both were nominated for Screen Actors Awards and Golden Globes. I’m so stunned how oblivious I was to the whole buyers club. I was living in Los Angeles during the 80’s and never heard a thing. Then again, social media was a gay newspaper that came out monthly. In today’s world there would have been an app. I would definitely suggest people to see this film not just for the amazing performances but to support daring filmmakers who want to tell stories not everyone wants to hear.

Judd: Dallas Buyers Club is a welcome addition to the pantheon of gay movies and, in particular, HIV/AIDS-related movies. It’s fascinating that 30 years later there are important stories that have yet to be told. Ron Woodroof, regardless of his motivations, was a hero to take a stand against the government and its seemingly paid-for regulation. Scofflaw, thrill-seeker or anarchist, Woodroof allowed many men and women, diagnosed with only days to live, to have months or years of living. Dallas Buyers Club repays Ron with an infinite afterlife on celluloid.

Swanner: 3 ½ Stars
Judd: 4 Stars

Nebraska

Swanner: I wasn’t a big fan of Sideways or About Schmidt and had all but written Alexander Payne off until I saw The Descendants and it became my favorite film of 2011. So hearing that he had a new film coming out had me excited. It’s a black and white film about an old boozer (Bruce Dern) who travels from Montana to Nebraska with his son (Will Forte) to pick up a million dollars that he thinks he won. I know I’m hit and miss with Payne’s movies so will this be another winner or will I be bored to tears?

Judd: I feel the same way as you about Alexander Payne. Sideways is still one of the most overrated movies – and that was before you and I started writing. I went into Nebraska with an open mind, though I’m not a huge fan of Will Forte. Fortunately, Forte plays it straight in Nebraska and while the beginning is a bit slow once the movie picks up and gets the whole family involved, the movie’s dubious intentions – is it a slice of life, or making fun of flyover states? – become clearer, and I really enjoyed it.

Swanner: When did it pick up? When the family shows up and we have 8 bumpkins staring at the TV not saying anything for what seemed like an eternity? When one-note Mom (June Squibb) goes on an endless rant of swearing about all the relatives? Giving every extra a line to congratulate Woody on his big win? Slice of life? More like slice my wrists! The acting—outside of the leads—was awful. I’ve seen more energy out of the extras on The Walking Dead…and they’re dead! The film runs 1:55 but feels much longer. The only two performances I liked were Forte and Angela McEwan who played the newspaper editor who still holds a torch for Woody.

Judd: I grew up in that house. Those folks were my family, and I can tell you that was a slice of life. Taking the chair out to the porch and watching the cars go by—the whole lot of it. You city slickers can’t comprehend it. You mentioned Forte and McEwan, but I also liked Squibb, Dern and Stacy Keach. The story of one man’s hope and the sensation is causes in a small, down on its luck town, was compelling enough to keep me interested.

Swanner: I’ve been a fan of Bruce Dern for years but all he did was sleep and act incoherent through the whole movie. This is a vehicle for Forte, but he’s being shoved into the backseat. Come awards time Forte’s performance in a supporting role stands a much better chance of winning then Dern as a lead. I liked Squibb but she was too much of a one note character for me. Her character was cheated out of growth time so we could watch Woody and his brother nap. I liked the premise of the show and what the story was trying to say but I just didn’t like the pacing. It felt very much like Woody’s journey to Nebraska …long and boring with no prize at the end. Oops! Spoilers.

Judd: I completely disagree that Dern’s performance was as simple as you describe it and expecting character growth out of an 80+ year old woman who’s as settled in her ways as her husband is in his, is unreasonable. That’s you projecting your trite rom-com expectations; Diane Keaton learns the true meaning of “family”. Barf. Though, I do agree with your final assessment, but I feel that a movie like this is about the journey, not the destination. Nebraska is an honest (for Hollywood ), dressed down look at Middle America, a place that usually ends up the butt of jokes.

Swanner: 2 Stars
Judd: 3 ½ Stars