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

Jersey Boys


Swanner: After 10 years on Broadway and touring the world, Director Clint Eastwood has brought the Tony Award winning Best Musical to the big screen. He also brought the Tony Award winning Best Actor to play Frankie Valli.   The production design, costumes and cinematography are Oscar worthy with great performances and direction…so with all this greatness why do I feel something was missing?

Judd: I agree there was something not quite right that I can’t put my finger on. While I want to say that John Lloyd Young was wooden as Valli, I think it went beyond that. The story felt very by-the-numbers as far as musical biopics and that coupled with Lloyd Young’s seemed boredom, the movie didn’t pop as much as it should have for the period and musical style. But still, I feel that there is more about it that I’m having a hard time articulating.

Swanner: John Lloyd Young was fine but maybe his inexperience with the camera is why he felt so flaccid on screen. Since I hadn’t seen the stage play I was unaware of how dark the story gets. Even with dramatic musicals there is something uplifting or grand to the story. Cabaret had the humorous MC that never let the story slow down, where Les Mez and Phantom had grand moments that made them majestic. Jersey Boys has a great pop score and a downer of a story.

Judd: I agree that the story was much more dramatic than I imagined, especially for something based on a play, but I still feel that it felt by-the-numbers for a biopic. Instead of drugs or an abusive spouse and the tribulations of “the road”, Valli dealt with embezzlement, the death of a child and the tribulations of “the road”. Eastwood is an extremely capable director, so I know that he’s not the one at fault for what seems to be missing.

Swanner: I know I’m not going to like every musical but I was surprised this one didn’t connect with me. It’s really a lovely film to look at and filled with good performances. I think there is an audience out there for Jersey Boys, the problem is they are all over 50. We’ll see if that group goes out to see this movie or weather they’ll wait for it to come to home video. I’d probably wait if it were me.

Judd:  I’m glad I saw it and I’m sorry I didn’t enjoy it more. I forgot all the hits that Valli had, and for a “jukebox show”, this one is better than others – I’m looking at you Rock of Ages. I think it could be worth the price of a matinee.

Swanner: **
Judd: ** ½

How to Train Your Dragon 2


Swanner:  I remember very well when I first saw the original How to Train your Dragon, Brian didn’t come for some reason and i sat there alone in the dark crying like a school girl. Finally, Dreamworks animation had touched me to the point of tears. Many had made me laugh but none that had made me cry. Then the How to Train your Dragon shows up and i’m a basketcase…thank god Brian wasn’t there.

As i sat there waiting today for all of the seven previews to finishing, wondering if the lightning would strike twice? I am happy to say that yes, Hiccup and Toothless are back and yes, i was fighting the tears on the walk to the car. Beside the terrific script by Director/Screenwriter Dean DeBlois is the emotional vocal performance by Jay Baruchel. It’s his emoting that gives this film it’s heart, that and Toothless’s brilliant comic timing. I know it’s all animation but when Hiccup talks what home means to him…i’m a child listening to bedtime story about a boy and his dragon from the great works of Cressida Cowell. Enough of my gushing.

The story follows Hiccup and his friends as they discover there is a man collecting dragons for war that will leave their home and their dragons in danger. There are a lot of dragons here, so you’re defiantly getting your money’s worth. There is a terrific voice cast of Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Cate Blanchett, Jonah Hill, American Ferrera, T.J. Miller and Kristen Wiig. All on point.  If you loved the first one you’ll love this one. If you didn’t like the first one, you’re certainly not human so your vote doesn’t count anyway. See it on the big screen first…it’s amazing.

Swanner ****

22 Jump Street


Swanner: Summertime at the multiplex means the studios are going for the big bucks and sequels usually bring those bucks home. This week there are two sequels opening, both did great business the first time around and both should do great business this time. 22 Jump Street brings the two stars (Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill) back as undercover cops infiltrating a college setting this time. A student is dead and a new drug are the only true leads the boys have as they start there investigation. Will the bumbling undercover officers get their man?

Judd:  Michael Bacall returns as screenwriter and Phil Lord & Christopher Miller return as directors in the sequel, meaning that we knew we were in for a very funny and strong script. The movie opens much like the last Muppet movie with a joke about how sequels are always bigger, more expensive, but never quiet as good. From there, we’re told what exactly to expect from the plot, which is exactly the same as the first movie. The question is, will lightening strike twice?

Swanner: It certainly did. I liked this one better than the first one for a number of reasons. The script is strong and it plays to the strength of the actors. The scenes with Ice Cube and the two leads are comic genesis. The supporting characters are well written and the actors play the crap out of them. Jillian Bell, The Lucas Brothers and Wyatt Russell are real stand outs in the show. The laughs just keep on coming. You’ve always heard people say i need to see a movie again because the laughs were coming so fast I missed dialog. This is that movies.

Judd: I’ll agree to an extent, but what I thought this sequel was missing was the absurdist humor from the first; the first movie has some very weird moments that were also very funny, and this one didn’t take the abstract quite as far. I was really looking forward to some weirdness from this sequel and the fact that it didn’t deliver disappointed me a little. Other than that, you’re right that the supporting cast is fantastic, and the improvised moments were kept tight, instead of dragging on like some of the movie’s peers.

Swanner: This is a very fun movie. I’ve been very happy with this summer’s comedies. All have been R rated and all have been funny. I’m hoping this brings back the R rated comedy to theatres but as we know the studios are always trying to cater to the teenagers with PG-13 water down crap. If you liked 21 Jump Street you should like this more. Since it’s the second one we don’t have to endure character development, we just jump head first into the laughs.  The ending credits offer up a comical look at what some future Jump Street movies might be like. If this is as big a success as I think it will be, they might have to use some of those ideas and I can’t wait.


Swanner: ***1/2

Judd: ***1/2