Swanner & Judd: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Judd: Jack Ryan is an ex-Marine. An Afghan war vet whose helicopter was shot down, Jack has the cojones to save two of his fellow soldiers from the wreckage, while unable to feel his legs because of a broken back. After intensive physical therapy learning to walk again, Jack is recruited by the CIA to trace funds and transactions that may be used to fund terrorist attacks against the United States. Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner and Kenneth Branagh, who also directed, star in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.

Swanner: This is Paramount’s attempt to reboot the Jack Ryan character into a franchise. Created by Tom Clancy, the Jack Ryan character has been played by Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford and now Chris Pine steps into his shoes. Pine has one hell of an agent because he’s already playing Captain Kirk in the Star Trek movies and now he’s Jack Ryan… any guess on who the new Indiana Jones is going to be?  Whatever he’s doing, good for him. I liked this reboot. Even though the original story gets a bit fantastic at times, it was still exciting and kept me on the edge of my seat.

Judd: The movie was OK, and a more appropriate title would have been Jack Ryan: Super Accountant.  The first part of the movie: the helicopter crash, rehab and recruitment, all takes about 30 minutes. Much of the story revolves around Jack’s mad auditing skillz, tracing hidden bank accounts to a Russian investment house. The last part of the movie devolves into a borderline ridiculous chase scene as our hero tries to stop the bomber. Though I make fun, the movie was better than I expected and could have held its own as an early summer release.

Swanner: Absolutely, it could have worked in that late April spot that the Fast & Furious and GI Joe movies have been debuting. It’s a test for the studio. If it does well, they’ll double the budget and it will become a Christmas release. It was really nice to see Keira Knightly get her hands dirty in something that doesn’t include pirates or the English aristocrats. Director Branagh knows how to make a well paced movie but his villain, Viktor Cherevin, was weak. Maybe Bond villains have jaded me because I didn’t get enough of the crazies from him.
Judd: You read my mind with the Bond comparison! Cherevin was suave, had a chronic health condition and monologued like a Bond Villain, and that’s what I wanted more of, but in the end, Cherevin was a bit impotent. For me, the crazy was there, but Cherevin doesn’t make a lasting impression because the real mayhem was caused by a secondary villain, and since there was no time invested in the secondary villain, there was nothing to make him a memorable henchman. He was a glorified extra, at best.

Swanner: I obviously liked the movie more than you did. I liked the cast and the film kept my attention, which is a major thing for me lately. I will admit that, though this film is coming out in a month known for its garbage releases, Jack Ryan is a breath of fresh and exciting air. The film did moderately well over the MLK weekend, so we’ll see if it’s enough for Paramount to make this a franchise character. Only box office will tell.

Swanner: ***
Judd: ** ½

Swanner & Judd: The Legend of Hercules

The Legend of HerculesSwanner: January is the worst month of the year for movies. It’s when studios release the bad movies they spent too much money on and need the films to have a theatrical run so they have some sort of life on home video… enter The Legend of Hercules. This latest Hercules from director Renny Harlin stars Kellan Lutz as the son of Zeus. My question is who gives Renny Harlin this kind of money anymore?

Judd: The last Renny Harlin film I saw was the boy-licious The Covenant, which explains the amount of beefcake in The Legend of Hercules. Granted, these sword and sandal epics traditionally feature a plethora of glistening pectorals, but I don’t recall one scene where Kellan Lutz is covered up. Not that it’s a bad thing. At least he knows where his appeal lies – Taylor Lautner should take a lesson. However, anyone expecting to see anything remotely based on the traditional stories of Hercules is going to be in for a rude awakening. Actually, the movie is so boring that awakening may not be the right word.

Swanner: Hercules does look like it’s been directed by Joel Schumacher. Did you notice how forgettable the whole film was? I was trying to remember a couple of scenes and it’s just gone. The only positive thing I can say about the film is that it was short. The film appears to move well, but then all the exposition just weighs it down, so I stopped following the story. They were trying for that Spartacus look and feel, but Spartacus had time to develop characters and storylines. Spartacus also went there with the killings, where Hercules was wrestling for that PG-13 rating, so we don’t even get the blood and guts to brighten up this turd.

Judd: It may only be 99 minutes long, but they are some of the longest 99 minutes I’ve ever experienced. You mention the lack of blood and guts and, while that shouldn’t make or break a film, The Legend of Hercules is noticeably bloodless. People are getting stabbed, beheaded, and whipped and no one bleeds. It’s off putting. This movie could’ve had potential if it were campier. There are times when it tiptoes with the idea, but it seems that Harlin was afraid to go full Immortals – which Kellan Lutz was also in as Poseidon, and wore the most FAB-ulous hat.

Swanner: That’s what I was trying to say… no comment! Make the film bloody and violent or make it so silly we can’t help but like it. This was just a bad script mixed with some bad acting. Before you start bad mouthing Taylor Lautner, just remember that Taylor has that beautiful face, where Kellan looks like a goof. The Italians used to make these kinds of films with bodybuilders, but they didn’t give them any lines, just a grunt here and there. If they were ugly, they’d grow a beard and there were no close-ups. These movies were successful because they didn’t take themselves too seriously. Harlin, on the other hand, still thinks his shit don’t stink, but his movies do!

Swanner: ½
Judd: No stars

Swanner & Judd: Her

HerSwanner: Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore, a man who is going through a painful divorce and, through the process, falls in love with his computer’s operating system, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Director Spike Jonze takes us into the near future, where today’s lonely hearts can find companionship with a program that meets all their physical and emotional needs. It felt like there wasn’t enough concept to fill its 2 hour and 6 minute running time… so what about my needs?

Judd: There was plenty of concept to fill the 2 hour run time. The movie is not only about Theodore and Samantha’s relationship, but also Samantha’s growth and evolution as a personality – which Johansson played brilliantly. Normally, I don’t particularly care for movies like this because they ask for too much suspension of disbelief, and there were moments where I was arguing with myself that programmers would not let a product like Samantha hit the shelves, but once I got passed that, I thought the movie was touching and solid.

Swanner: Please, once we got passed the gimmick, it turned into a romantic comedy. I’m not saying it wasn’t well made, it was, but after they both got jealous, I started to guess which romcom shtick would come next. One thing I did like about this movie is that it will get people talking, hopefully to each other, about how people don’t talk to each other. I loved the scene on the subway stairs when Theodore finally realizes that everyone around him has an operating system that they are talking to. I think you like the movie because it would be the perfect relationship for you. I did think Johansson was really good as the Operating System, especially due to the fact that she was brought in at post-production to replace Samantha Morton, who just wasn’t giving the character the emotion Jonze needed.

Judd: You’re just pissed because Samantha and Theodore never had a pillow fight and there was no way to cast Diane Keaton as the mother-in-law. I’ve never seen a standard/conventional romcom address the issues of open relationships and the fact that one person was in love with something that, at best, didn’t exist and, at worst, may have been programmed to manipulate its user. I will agree the worst parts of the movie are when Jonze forces the cutesy routine on us, which are probably the moments you enjoyed most, and it’s too bad he couldn’t have come up with something more original to match the rest of his script. A walk on the beach with a cell phone is still a cheesy walk on the beach. Fortunately, Jonze focused more on the melancholy idea of love rather than throwing softballs to win a teddy bear, which I found very satisfying – but I can understand how it left you wanting.

Swanner: I can see where the idea behind this film would be desirable to some people. It would be nice to have someone to talk to when you come home to a lonely house. Eating dinner is always more fun if there’s someone else there to share your day with. Playing video games and watching endless hours of scheisse videos can be pretty pathetic “all alone, but with a friend” – even a computerized one is better than the alternative, I guess. I didn’t hate the movie. I think, had it been shorter, the gimmick wouldn’t have burned out so fast. Like Gravity, you can’t let the audience spend too much time over thinking the plot.

Judd: It’s a gimmick, yes, but it’s not nearly as shallow as you seem to think it was. It’s a shame you can’t see passed the lonely guy and his love-bot, but when you’ve been spoon fed nothing but stock characters in these kinds of movies, it’s hard to think beyond the surface. Perceptual blindness. It’s easy to miss something you’re not looking for. I didn’t see a stock romance film with a gimmick. I saw a romance film with a wholly unique and genuine twist that took the film outside of its romcom realm. It’s a movie with a strong script, strong performances and a reason to go to the theaters this January, when you’d rather stay at home recovering from the holidays. The only downfall is that the gooey moments are a bit forced and everyone dresses like they shop at American Apparel.

Swanner: 2 Stars
Judd: 2 Stars

Swanner & Judd: August: Osage County

August-Osage CountySwanner: Every year about this time, I look forward to seeing one good movie. August: Osage County is this year’s movie. After the patriarch of the Weston family kills himself, the rest of the family comes together during a very hot August in Oklahoma. Based on the Tony Award winning play by Tracy Letts (whom also wrote the script), the film spends a few days with this very dysfunctional family. Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts star.

Judd: Tracy Letts also penned the screenplays to Bug and last year’s critical darling Killer Joe – a movie that will forever change the way its viewers eat their KFC. Letts won the Tony for the screenplay August: Osage County; he also won the Tony for his role as George in 2012’s revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Needless to say, Letts has a pedigree and, interestingly enough, August: Osage County reminded me very much of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Imagine that George and Martha had a family and Martha was left to deal with the funeral and her daughters. From there, you have a pretty strong idea of the trip that August: Osage County takes you on.

Swanner: It’s Steel Magnolias with the cast of Virginia Woolf. I loved that the audience we saw the screening with didn’t understand that the film is supposed to be funny. Granted, there are big dramatic moments, but overall it’s pretty funny. Of course, you and I were laughing more than people thought we should. I do have to say that it’s such a pleasure watching Meryl Streep act. She also makes the rest of the cast step lively, because all the performances are good. The rest of the cast includes Margo Martindale, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Sam Shepard, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin, and Dermot Mulroney. All are great!

Judd: Much like Lett’s Killer Joe, August: Osage County is a very dark comedy and, again like Killer Joe, it jumps head first into some very tawdry subjects. It’s artful trash, but it’s trash just the same; my favorite kind of movie. This is a script that could have easily been adapted from a Jacqueline Susann novel. It’s the quality of the writing and the caliber of the cast that elevates August: Osage County into something more than a pulpy melodrama. I particularly love when “living room” plays are adapted to the screen, because the lack of scenery changes keeps the focus on the actors and the dialogue and, as our loyal readers know, I put script and acting above all else.

Swanner: I refused to watch Killer Joe because no one is taking away my love for KFC. This kind of film needs a strong director that can contain not only the actors, but also drive such an emotional script. Director John Wells paints the bleak plains of Oklahoma like a grey cloud hanging over the family. The cinematography slithers through the scenes, showing all the scars, while eavesdropping on secrets as they are revealed – and these folks have some good secrets. This movie is fun. If you like watching a family fall apart as much as I do, you won’t be disappointed.

Judd: Trust me, Tom, if you saw Killer Joe, you would probably love KFC all the more. August: Osage County is a great movie about horrible people. I have renewed respect for Julia Roberts and Streep’s Violet Weston is going to join the ranks of Elizabeth Taylor’s Martha, Patty Duke’s Neely O’Hara, and Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford as one of films’ biggest and baddest Bitches.

Swanner: 4 Stars
Judd: 5 Stars

Swanner & Judd: Lone Survivor

Lone SurvivorSwanner: Lone Survivor, starring Mark Wahlberg, tells the story of four Navy Seals sent on an ill-fated covert mission to neutralize a high-level Taliban operative and are ambushed by enemy forces in the Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan. Based on The New York Times bestseller by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson, this story of heroism, courage and survival, written and directed by Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights), also stars Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, and Eric Bana. I actually had to make reference to the Universal Studios’ description because to me these movies are just loud, violent and never enough nudity.

Judd: I feel movies like Lone Survivor are made for viewers who fit in a very particular niche – armchair soldiers with very little political understanding, who were too fat, too stupid or too cowardly to join the military themselves. These viewers get their thrills watching this type of movie so they can see what the “real” action was like. Or, the mercenary psychopaths who can only get a boner watching people die. I have a hard time believing that soldiers having lived through something like this would want to witness it on the big screen and after the movie was over I, as a civilian, was ready to make a “Bush Lied, People Died” poster and stand on the corner of J and 16th.

Swanner: Who are you? I’m not really sure who the demographic is, but it’s not me. I find the Fast and Furious movies far too loud and violent, where this film multiplies that by ten. The film starts out with doctors working on a patient that is referred to as the “lone survivor”. We know who it is through all the make-up, but for the producers sake I’ll pretend I don’t. Then the film flashes back to three days before the mission, where the filmmakers introduce us to the four marines, letting us learn enough about them that we have a sense of who they are and why we should care for them. Thirty minutes in, they are on the ground and the battle begins.

Judd: Technically the movie is very good. Berg’s direction is quick without being frantic, and the sound mixing and effects are brilliant. The sound of gunfire and whizzing bullets is contained and not cartoony; it adds to the realism of the action. The only problem I had, politics aside, is that Berg, and maybe Luttrell (I didn’t read the book), plays a little loose with the bodily trauma these men go through. I’m not doubting the toughness of these men, but I think walking on a leg with a compound fracture may be taking things a bit far.

Swanner: It was quite brutal and, yes, the trauma the soldiers’ bodies go through seems a bit unbelievable when they get up and continue on. I have a hang nail and my whole day is ruined. I really appreciated that the shaky cam was controlled here. This is the kind of film where they could have gone nuts with the cinematography. It’s an exhausting film that’s well made and, at times, breathtaking. I will warn you that the “R” rating is for language and violence. If the opening sequence to Saving Private Ryan was too much for you, then the last hour of this film will mess you up.

Judd: When we left the theater I said to you that the only way to review this movie is based on its technical merit and performances, which are top grade. Would I recommend anyone to see Lone Survivor? Absolutely not. I stand by my first statement, that the movie is for armchair patriots and psychopaths. If the story involved cunning use of strategy or military ingenuity, that would be one thing, but this is the story of four men literally caught between a rock and hard place. Only a sadomasochist would voluntarily pay money to witness their virtual execution.

Swanner: 3 Stars
Judd: 3 Stars