PODCAST: Maleficent, A Million Ways to Die in the West

S&JlogoitunesSwanner and Judd talk about Maleficent; A Million Ways to Die in the West.
Left Click To Listen, Right Click Here To Download SJ14: May 30, 2014

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X-Men: Days of Future Past

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Swanner: In a not too distant future, the Mutants are being hunted by devices that can change and adapt to the Mutants’ power. These machines, developed by the government, are creating genocide of the Mutant race. Professor X and Magneto send Wolverine into the past to stop this from happening. As Wolverine arrives in the past we see the younger cast from the last film, First Class, where most of the original cast appears in just cameos…kind of a brilliant twist so fans literally get the best of both worlds. Bryan Singer steps back into the director’s chair and you can really feel a difference in the franchise. Simon Kinberg (Sherlock Holmes) brings us a solid screenplay if not a bit too talky.

As I mentioned, there is a huge cast of actors sharing iconic X-men characters. Jennifer Lawrence, Hugh Jackman, Ellen Page, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart just to name a few. Fans of the franchise will love the twist and the producers need to figure out how to bring the past back for the next outing. They have added a few more characters including Dr. Bolivar Trask (played by Peter Dinklage), the man who develops the technology to defeat the Mutants. Personally, if you have Dinklage in your film use him as much as possible; I would have loved a few more juicy scenes from him. He makes everything he touches better for him being there. That can be said about most of the cast. They have some of the best actors working today in this franchise and it pays off.

It’s not my favorite of the X-Men but they all tend to be so good its hard to find fault (The Wolverine being the exception). I’m hoping Bryan Singer’s legal problems don’t interfere with the series. He brings back what made these movies work so well. He gives them their purpose for continuing this struggle for acceptance. Most minorities can find solace in the hall of the Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters because, like the Mutants, we all find ourselves searching for a place to call home. It’s what’s been missing from some of the more recent films and I think that’s something Singer brings in abundance. X-Men fans will cheer this new addition, but I would suggest the virgins to the series at least see the original X-Men and First Class before jumping into the franchise.

Swanner: 3 Stars

Blended

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Judd: For some reason the studios don’t want us to see the highly anticipated X-Men: Days of Future Past, but they are more than happy to send us to the new Adam Sandler “comedy” Blended. Starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, Blended tells the story of a lovely lady who was bringing up two very lively boys and a story of a man named Jim who was busy with three girls of his own. Then the one day when the lady met this fellow… you know the rest, except it all takes place on an AFRICAN SAFARI!!!! Wait. What?

Swanner: The comparison to The Brady Bunch is obvious and if still on the air I’m sure they’d go on safari. The only thing missing was Alice. While anticipating seeing this film I had lowered my expectations so low that I almost, sort of, kind of…liked it. It was nice to see Sandler toned down and let Barrymore be funny. I did notice that with the focus on the blending of the family, the dialogue was less douchey. It wasn’t trying to make 12 year old boys giggle, at was trying to sound like real 12 year boys talking and reacting to real life and not the goofy, foulmouthed world usually supplied (poorly) by Sandler and his buddies.

Judd: Grant you, Blended is not your typical Adults Behaving Badly Sandler comedy, but it is once again a shallow and poorly concealed maneuver to fund a Sandler vacation. The set was the luxury resort Sun City in South Africa. It’s not as if there was a reason for them to be there, and it’s not like we learned anything about the area. And while it may not have been goofy and foulmouthed, the movie was still as hackneyed as anything he’s done with the children being exploited to their fullest for manufactured “Awwww…” moments.

Swanner: I didn’t notice that but you’re right, there was no reason to go to Africa. They could have film at Lion Country Safari and no one would know the different. The film did make Africa more interesting than just heat and snakes, but you’re still not getting me there. I did notice that the writers have never worked with Sandler before which has got to help. I know there are a lot of kids moments her but you have to admit the kids were good and the emotions were real. Again, Sandler looks as out of place as ever but at least he’s surrounding himself with people more talented which is something new for him.

Judd: The emotions were real?!?!? Oh Please! The only thing missing was the little girl hugging Sandler around the knees and saying, “Daddy, I wuv you!” The direction by Sandler alumnus Frank Coraci had the kids mugging and spazing like some ‘70s Saturday morning breakfast cereal commercial. Young Mason Reese would have fit right in.

Swanner: I know Brian is very negative about this title. He’s confused because he didn’t have the regular anger issues he always has after an Adam Sandler movie. I know where he’s coming from, I thought I’d hate it…I wanted to hate it but I can’t. Sure it’s not a great movie by any means but I enjoyed myself. It’s a scary thing but every once in a while it happens…Adam Sandler makes an okay movie. When I say okay, I mean it probably won’t win any Razzies this year and for Sandler it’s an honor just not getting nominated.

Judd: Just because this isn’t the worst of Adam Sandler doesn’t make this a worthy movie. The emotional moments are hammy and saccharine; the jokes are immature and the combination of sitcom writing with broad direction is about as subtle as an old vaudeville act. Playing to the back row doesn’t work on a 30’ screen. Not to mention the movie is about 20 minutes too long; I don’t want to spend two hours looking at Adam Sandler’s vacation photos.

Swanner: 2 Stars
Judd: No Stars

Chef

3452345Swanner: I love how every year there are little movies that show up and give me hope that summers are more than just superheroes, special effects, animated features and a Cameron Diaz sex comedy. Chef is that movie for me this year. Directed, written and staring Jon Favreau, the film tells the story of an L.A. chef, who gets caught in a twitter war with a food critic, looses his job and opens a food truck to keep his sanity. I’ve given you a bare bones description of this delicious comedy but there is so much more to the film. It needs to be devoured to be appreciated.

Judd: Boy, am I glad hammy puns and cheesy play on words aren’t your bread and butter. (Boom! That’s how it done, son!) You saw Chef before I did and you came back raving about how touching and wonderful it was, so I went in prepared for the worst and ready to make the movie bleed. However, this time your judgment wasn’t clouded by the food and the leading man’s moobs. I agree that Chef is a delightful, touching, sentimental-without-being-syrupy comedy that reminded me a lot of 2011’s The Descendants in its strong script and deft direction. It’s only until the very end that Chef turns sickeningly sweet.

Swanner: That’s because most people like happy endings. I like The Descendants reference; both are smart movies that leave you hungry for more with good casts that have child actors that can act. I was going to use Juno and Little Miss Sunshine but I didn’t want to lose what little good will I was getting from you. I remember being surprised when I realized Favreau had directed Iron Man and Elf, this really shows that he can do it all. The biggest problem I had with the film was it made me hungry. I had to hit KFC for a Double Down before I passed out from hunger.

Judd: Only you would watch a movie about good food and culinary art then head to a KFC; you’re revealing more about more about yourself. The thing about Chef that I really liked, and I think exposes the wanton capriciousness of the MPAA, is the language of the film made the script very real. F-bombs were flying around the kitchen, just like it would in a real restaurant. Because of that, a very good movie about a man finding himself and reconnecting with his son, gets an R-rating. Of course, this is the same problem that we had with The King’s Speech. Regardless, the supporting cast featured the always wonderful, and underworked Bobby Cannavale, John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson and Sofia Vergara (this generation’s Charo). There are also appearances by Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt, Robert Downey Jr., Russell Peters and a spot-on Amy Sedaris.

Swanner: I really liked that no one is really the bad guy here. Favreau has a bad day and looks like a schmuck … it happens. Platt writes food reviews, Hoffman is thinking about his restaurant. I’m so tired of films where someone has to be the hero and someone has to be the bad guy. People are constantly evolving and life gets in the way. I loved this movie. I call it a little film but in reality it has got huge stars and it’s beautifully made. It looks like the studio thinks it is an art house film … I hope an audience finds it because this is a treat not to be missed. Best Movie of the Year.

Judd: I agree. Overall the movie is very good. Touching without being needy or cloying – as food critic Ramsey Michel would have said. The only time the movie stumbles is at the very end, in what feels like a throwback to the Hays Code; an ending tacked on at the last minute to appease some studio hack. For me, it’s hard to overlook.

Swanner: 4 Stars
Judd: 3 ½ Stars

Million Dollar Arm

rinku-singh-dinesh-patel-million-dollar-armJudd: In Million Dollar Arm, Jon Hamm plays JB Bernstein, an sports agent who, after working for “the big guys”, strikes out on his own. He’s got it all: a big house, a Porsche, pretty women — all, but an important client to pay the bills. About to lose his office and in a moment of desperation, JB figures out the next big untapped market is India and decides to scout cricket players to make into the next big American baseball star. Supporting cast includes Lake Bell, Alan Arkin, Aasif Mandvi, Madhur Mittal and Suraj Sharma.

Swanner: Disney has really tried to capture the feel good sports movie genre in the last few years with Remember the Titans, Miracle, Secretariat and Invincible just to name a few. Million Dollar Arm tells a good story of a guy just trying to break out on his own and the young athletes he inspires. It’s been a very successful movie model for Disney. The movies are all very well received by the audiences and this one should fit in there nicely.

Judd: Sports movies are all the same to me, and Million Dollar Arm is no different. You’ve got the underdog, the struggling athlete and then a secondary story where the struggling athlete has to overcome some personal drama; Million Dollar Arm doesn’t deviate from this formula, and I felt it a bit tiresome. There was one point where I excused myself to visit the facilities because I knew exactly what would happen in the scene and when I got back everything that I expected transpired. I understand there are some devices that a screenwriter can’t escape, but Million Dollar Arm adhered to them, seemingly too afraid to deviate.

Swanner: You may be right on this, but if it works it works. I mentioned it was a successful movie model for Disney. People like this kind of film because no matter how it ends, it’s going to be happy (even if they don’t win) because we’ve all grown and learned something. This does give us a new world to explore as India has become the new place to set movies these days. The acting was good and the sights are new. I do know after watching this movie that will never vacation in India. The food is probably wonderful but it doesn’t look like air conditioning has arrived and until it does — I won’t.

Swanner: 3 Stars
Judd: 2½ Stars

Neighbors

neighbors03Swanner: Mac (Seth Rogan) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are a happy couple with a sweet baby and their whole lives in front of them — until a fraternity house moves in next door. Trying to get a head of the game, they introduce themselves as the cool couple on the block but get much more than they expected. The frat, headed up by Zac Efron and Dave Franco, do everything they can think of to the couple after they call the police on one of their parties.

Judd: Directed by Nick Stoller, who directed Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek, as well as wrote the last two Muppet movies — my, isn’t he prolific — Neighbors takes the frat boy comedy and collides it with a CBS-style family sitcom. The fat dude, his gorgeous wife and their new baby. The mixing of formulas works surprisingly well. Why? Because after we meet the baby, she’s tossed in the closet and only brought back at the end of the movie.

Swanner: The only problem I had with the movie was that we really weren’t told who the bad guys are. I know they wanted us to side with the family but then don’t make the frat guys so lovable/hot. In Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds we knew right away who the good guys were and without that things get conflicted. I know that if I lived next door to a frat house I’d hate the noise, too, but somehow I think I’d see past that and on the other hand I hate Neighbors who complain about anything and everything you do. Other than that I had a blast.

Judd: Seriously? Are you that shallow you couldn’t tell that a bunch of immature, brain-dead party boys were the bad guys? And you think you could live next to a frat house? Actually, you probably could seeing that you’re practically a shut in and the only time you see great outdoors is when you’re shuffling to and from your car. Anyway, I thought the script was very well-balanced between the destructive-but-funny Animal House shenanigans and the neighbors not only plotting to get rid of the frat house, but also dealing with their new life, or lack thereof, as parents.

Swanner: Right, the script was very well balanced between the two groups. I think if they made one or the other nastier I think it would have given it more focus. I’m not saying I didn’t like the movie. What’s not to like? Nearly naked Efron and Rogan, drugs, booze and even some fireworks … it’s like your last Memorial Day party — but where people show up. It’s definitely a movie to see again. Its box office will suffer though because kids are going to want to see this movie and have to sneak in after buying tickets to that god awful Oz movie.

Judd: The movie hits a sweet spot. It appeals to the college kids still partying and having fun, but it’s also relatable to people in my age group who are starting a family and putting all those wild times behind them. There’s a point in the movie where Byrne and Rogen are talking about how awesome brunch is, along with fresh ground coffee and scented soaps and I totally understood. My conversations with college friends now are about lame things like mortgage rates and retirement investments. And I like it that way.

Swanner; 3 Stars
Judd: 3½ Stars