Obvious Child

jenny-slate-obvious-child-600x337Swanner: I want to start the review by saying that this is a romantic comedy about abortion. I wanted to toss the abortion issue out there because there are people out there that will get up and leave once realizing what the subject matter actually is and how it’s being handled. The storyline follows, Donna, a standup comedian who gets drunk, has unprotected sex and ends up pregnant. Jenny Slate (Parks and Recreation) stars as the before mentioned stand up who plans her Valentine’s Day abortion just as she’s meeting a new man who is actually the father of the child.

Judd: I’m a fan of Jenny Slate; I think she’s a terrifically funny woman capable of playing different characters as well as playing it straight, so I went into Obvious Child with high expectations. The movie opens with Donna giving her standup routine at some dingy, hole-in-the-wall bar about being unable to fart in front of a new beau. The placement then moves into a dramatic scene that takes place in a unisex bathroom at the same bar. This sets the tone for the movie – and I mean that in a good way. While I would say that the overall humor of the movie is very middle-brow, its alt/indie tone zeroes in on the audience that is progressive enough to handle such a sensitive topic with humor.

Swanner: I went in not knowing Slate’s work. I just knew it was an unapologetic comedy about abortion and I was in. What I liked about the movie was its simplicity. Much of what makes the film work comes between writer/director Gillian Robespierre, who’s only past credit is writing and directing the short film this movie is based on, and Slate who commands the screen and delivers a memorable performance. I like the fact that Donna is getting an abortion and she’s not rose tinting it for anyone. Outside of the doctor at the clinic, everyone agrees with what she’s doing and I appreciated we didn’t have to have the angsty guilt ridden second act.

Judd: Slate delivers a great performance, as well as Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffman, Gabe Leidman, David Cross, Richard Kind and Polly Draper. The star, though, is the script. Much like the movies we’ve seen in recent years featuring all Black casts, we’re seeing more movies written and directed by women that generally have better quality than the mainstream stuff put out by major studios. I think it’s a great step forward in proof that women can be funny, without being whiny, vindictive shrews like in Other Woman or man-crazy ditzes like The Sweetest Thing. I think movies like this and TV shows like Broad City are going to help other women’s films break the tropes they’ve been confined to since film’s beginning.

Swanner: We’ve talked about how refreshing it’s been seeing women come (finally) to the forefront of the entertainment business. Jennifer Lawrence, Emily Blunt, Shailene Woodley, Scarlett Johansson and Emma Stone are making box-office star wages. Jolie, Bullock, Streep and Thompson are creating roles for themselves with their own production companies. The best part of all this is that women are going to the movies and not just following their man into an action picture. Fault of the Stars, The Other Woman, Maleficent, Catching Fire and Divergent have all been number one at the box-office and all have female leads. It’s may seem like baby steps but now that women are the stars of the big box-office hits we’ll finally see some change.

Judd: While I agree with what you said, I think it’s important to highlight that women-led comedies are coming to the forefront. There have always been strong female leads; Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Katherine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, Faye Dunaway, Jessica Lange, even the now-dreadful Diane Keaton was a strong lead at one time. Now we’re entering new territory with strong comedies that are written and directed by females. Obvious Child adeptly tackles a tough topic and handles it like an adult with charming, yet childish humor. I hope to see more of Jenny Slate on screen and I hope to watch more works by Gillian Robespierre.

Swanner: 3 ½ Stars
Judd: 4 Stars

Begin Again

rs_560x415-140328181340-1024.Begin-Again-Adam-Levine-Keira-Knightley.ms.032814_copySwanner: After long term boyfriend/writing partner Dave (Adam Levine) leaves Gretta (Keira Knightly) she plans to leave NY and head home to England but the night before she leaves producer Dan (Mark Ruffalo) hears her perform and offers her the chance to record her music. Director/writer John Carney (Once) creates a romantic comedy about two people who never become romantic together but learn about love through the music they make.

Judd: Much like Inside Llewyn Davis, Begin Again is a short story exploded into a full runtime by the use of showing our chanteuse singing her full and complete songs. Fortunately, unlike Inside Llewyn Davis, she does more than sing the same song over and over; however, it doesn’t help the fact that over the period of an hour and forty minutes, about 40 minutes of story actually transpires, while the rest is spent listening to pleasant but pointless songs. To make matters worse, the minimal amount of story in the movie is about as banal and hackneyed as you can get.

Swanner: The biggest problem I’m having with this movie is that the soundtrack doesn’t come out till July 1st. I really liked this movie a lot. This film is nothing like Inside Llewyn Davis other then it’s about the music business. I love the way writer Carney brings these two characters together but never makes them lovers. They both have failed relationships but the music that they make together, heals them and makes them more equipped to love again. Yes, it’s a simple story but it’s beautifully told through song and script.

Judd: Simple story? Yes. Tired and overdone? Also yes. She loses her man to fame, he loses his wife and child to a string of bad luck and booze. It’s a plot we’ve seen a million times before and this brings absolutely nothing new to the table except being mostly a music video. Actually, I take that back. I think Begin Again is the only movie I’ve ever seen that’s almost entirely composed of montages. It’s actually pretty genius. Why develop your characters with story and dialogue when you can make the same simple points with a dozen or so musical numbers?

Swanner: That what a musical does…links story and dialogue together through song. Maybe you didn’t understand that since you were rolling your eyes so hard you couldn’t enjoy the movie. I can see that you wouldn’t like the movie if you didn’t like the music but how could you miss all the emotion in the film. Sure the story has been told before but what movie hasn’t been…it’s the way the story is told that makes the difference here. I loved the characters and their growth through the film. It really touched me and I think it’s going to touch other humans as well.

Judd: You’re touched, alright. A musical by Sondheim, Rogers and Hammerstein or Irving Berlin tells a story through music. When Rosemary Clooney sings “Love, you didn’t do right by me” I know she was singing about buh-buh-buh-Bing, when Gretta starts warbling under a bridge about who knows what, I lost interest and quick. The only thing that kept me from falling asleep during the movie was my interest in music and music production; though my curiosity, in this case, was more of a curse than a blessing.

Swanner: 3 ½ Stars
Judd: 1 ½ Stars

Transformers: Age of Extinction

Transformers-4-Autobot-CarsSwanner: After saving the world yet again, the Autobots are shunned by the world and have gone underground (some literally) to hide from the government. Enter Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) a Texan mechanic/inventory, with a Boston accent, who stumbles on to a mysterious semi parked inside a theatre. Cade, his surfer assistant Lucas (TJ Miller), daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) and her Irish boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor) discover this semi is really Optimus Prime. Together they go about saving the world … again.

Judd: Was it really that terrible? I mean, I was there, but somehow I have no recollection of it. Like I’ve repressed it all because it was so horrific and terrible that my brain is protecting me from the shock. I’m a big Transformers fan – I like cars, I like robots, I REALLY like it when the two are combined. This fourth installment, Michael Bay sinks to new depths in this 2 hours and 45 minute debacle. The story is the same as the last three, which has gotten old, but it’s the plot holes and inconsistencies that really got to me. No one questioned an cabover Kenworth parked in a movie theatre? The bad guy, played by Kelsey Grammer, contracts a Transformer hit man who travels in a Manhattan sized spaceship, yet it remains a “covert” operation? Excuse me while I pick my jaw up off the floor.

Swanner: Once they got to China I was done. I didn’t care about if the world would survive or not, I just wanted it to end. I can overlook all the holes in the plot and the bad acting if I’m not bored. It’s an action picture and they are always big messes but they crossed a line when they let Bay sell them on the 2:45 running time…not to mention they had two trailers tacked on to the front of the movie. The first three films have made over 2.5 billion dollars which lets Bay do whatever he wants to do. It really doesn’t matter because this film is going to make a boat load of money and fear not…Transformer 5 is already in pre-production.

Judd: The nice things I think need to be said are that as far as the action and robot fights go, I loved it. When Optimus Prime starts riding the Dinobot (Grimlock) I got a huge grin on my face. I like the new design of the robots; they don’t look so much like robo-bugs now. Optimus as a customized Western Star is BAD ASS! John Goodman as Hound is a fantastic voice choice. Also, I’d really like to see it at the IMAX to take all its giganticness, but this time I think Bay has taken the stupidity of the plot and it’s actors a little too far. In fact, I would say that the humans are what bog this movie down. The only thing as bad as Mark Wahlberg as an inventor is Tara Reid as an archeologist in Alone in the Dark.

Swanner: You’re right that the robot on robot action is great. You had mentioned that if the film’s slow motion was at regular speed the film would have been under two hours. Bay and his slow motion action sequences are ridiculous. Most of the transforming is in slow motion. Explosions are in slow motion and of course when Tessa whips her hair it’s in slow motion. I never go in to these films expecting too much and I’m usually entertained but this time I was just bored.

Judd: I agree. The first three movies were bad but forgivable; this fourth installment shows just how badly the franchise needs a change in direction. It’s become tired. The action gets better with every film, but the plot gets worse. I was going to say that this one teeters on being unwatchable, but I unfortunately think Bay has crossed that line. Again, the fight scenes are amazing and I wish I could have seen them on a larger screen, but due the quality and overall runtime, I can’t subject myself to that kind of torture.

Swanner: 1 ½ Stars
Judd: 1 ½ Stars

Think Like a Man Too


Swanner: The break out of films made with a mostly black cast over the last couple years has been huge. So it seems obvious that after the original did 91 million at the box-office a sequel was certain. This time around the cast goes to Vegas for a wedding with the bachelor/bachelorette parties the night before (never a good idea by the way) with hilarity ensuing. I know Las Vegas is a great background but does every story placed there have to follow the same poor decisions?

Judd: The slogan, “What happens in Vegas…” sets the standard for what happens there – an image that I’m sure they’re happy to keep. After all, isn’t gambling in and of itself a poor decision? Regardless, I knew what to expect from the movie, not having seen the first. Featuring actors, Michael Ealy, Terrence Jenkins, Romany Malco, Kevin Hart, Regina Hall, Meagan Good, Gabrielle Union, Think… Too is one of those broad comedies that destroy the forward steps that movies like About Last Night have made.

Swanner: It’s not the greatest sequel, it’s a bit of a mess but it’s still funny. The narration is done by Kevin Hart who I don’t think was the best of choices because of his machine gun delivery. It worked but I think if maybe one of the women had done it, it would have been better. I know he’s hot right now but they had a very capable cast to make the script work with or without him. The script was written by (Keith Merryman & David A. Newman) the same two writers as the first film and the film was directed by Tim Story who directed the film “Think” film as well as this years Ride Along which also starred Kevin Hart.

Judd: A bit of a mess? If that’s not an understatement, I don’t know what is! As I already mentioned, the humor was the broad and stereotypical work of a Tyler Perry or Adam Sandler film. The editing was so hyperactive, at one point I had to close my eyes because the cuts came so numerous and fast I was getting a headache – and this was during a conversation, not an action sequence. The plot was not only typical, it was sparse for a 3 hour film. Nothing happened! It was amateur filmmaking at its worst.

Swanner: The film was a hour forty and moved quickly with all that hyperactive editing. I had already mentioned that you can’t make a Vegas comedy with a strip club, an arrest, someone losing all their money and a race to get to a wedding and or a quick Vegas wedding. With all that said the movie was funny and we both laughed a lot, as did our audience. I also take pause with the rude Adam Sandler comparison. Adam Sandler is the bottom of the barrel, this was more middle of the road.

Judd: Sure, there are some funny jokes here and there, but the film as a whole is not funny or good by any standard and I stand by my Sandler comparison. This is not middle of the road. The script is awful, the editing is horrible; however, the direction was simply unremarkable. That’s as close to a compliment as I’m going to get.

Swanner ** 1/2
Judd: 1/2