As Above, So Below


Swanner: The new film As Above, So Below follows a group of treasure hunters into the catacombs under Paris where they think the Philosopher’s Stone was hidden hundreds of years ago by Nicolas Flamel. If this sounds familiar, it should. That’s the same name used as the owner of the stone in the first Harry Potter book and film. I’m guessing Flamel was a real person and from what I scanned the philosopher’s stone is based on fact. Does this mean the film is worth it’s admission? Brian?

Judd: Are you suggesting because of the tie-in with real life and Harry Potter, that alone merits a viewing? That’s a bit of a stretch. I had no idea about the Harry Potter tie-in, and I’ve heard about the Philosopher’s Stone from other sources – The Venture Bros, for one. In As Above, So Below, a handful of people strap on helmet cams and go spelunking in the catacombs of Paris to locate the stone, only to find terror and random scary things that mean nothing in the end.

Swanner: I’m just saying that the tie in with Harry Potter was the only interesting thing about the film. Otherwise it’s a bunch of young people running through dark tunnels with shaky cameras filming everything…that you could actually see. I liked the concept and the plot had me intrigued but once they entered the catacombs I was done. There was one scene where a character is stuck in one of the passageways which made me very claustrophobic but that passes and we return to more running in the dark. I hated the way they teased us with spooky people walking around these tunnels that never come to play. This whole film is just filled with missed opportunity.

Judd: I agree. I thought the film was 75% unwatchable due to the shaky camera work. Every time a movie like this gets made, I can’t help but wonder why they keep dragging up this old gimmick. It’s literally nauseating to watch, and it doesn’t add any tension. The claustrophobic scene you mention was very good, but it was better the first time in The Descent – where the cinematography was nice and still. The actors are all unknowns, and I think they all did a good job. I liked the direction, but the script reminded me of Japanese horror films – which I do not like, because instead of relying on genuine scares, they tend to come up with unrelated freaky images that flash on the screen. I kept waiting for an unrelated close up of a horse’s eyeball and subsequent suicide.

Swanner: The acting was fine from what could see. One storyline they brought up was that all the characters had some awful secret from the past…well just the main characters. The rest are just victims. The once again tease us with these secrets but never really follow though. The piano in the preview is the same piano from one of the characters past…spooky? Not really and that’s just one of the problems with the film. It’s not scary enough, it was too dark to see, characters come and go, no follow through and the camera shakes. They make these films for nothing and I guess we got what they paid for.

Swanner: 1 star
Judd: 1 star

If I Stay


Judd: Mia is a senior in High School and a promising classical cellist. Her parents are loving ex-rockers, and her new boyfriend is also an up and coming musician. Everything is coming up roses for Mia, until one fateful day when she and her family are critically injured in a car accident and her life flashes in front of her eyes. Chloe Grace Moretz is Mia and Stacy Keach gives a gut-wrenching turn as Gramps in this teenage tearjerker.

Swanner: This is just what we needed, a newish teenage angst movie…cause just aren’t enough of these films. I’m kidding of course, all the “teenage” films coming out are angsty. Remember when teenagers had fun? Not anymore. They fall in love and then someone gets hurt (comas are very popular these days), the family moves away, jealously and suicide. What happened to a good TP job or a road trip to get laid? I’m tired of seeing kids worried about grown up stuff. Let the kids be kids.

Judd: Back in my day, it was all sock hops and beach parties! HAVE FUN, you damn kids! As you shake your angry fist. I think we can thank John Hughes for starting the angsty teen trend that’s been going on for the past 30 years. The problem with teenage dramas is that they’re all so basic. They feel like Cliff’s Notes, or “Intro To…” movies. Primers for when these teenage girls are housewives who “just need a good cry.” Mia’s boyfriend is barely a character; when he’s not performing on stage he’s spouting off a couple lines raging against his messed up family. He literally never progresses past being a rebel rocker.

Swanner: I never understood why she liked him to begin with. You’re right, he’s not even interesting to look at and I wouldn’t be able to pick him out of a line up, where I would be able to with her best friend and parents. The ICU nurse made more of an impression than the boyfriend ever did. It’s not that the acting was bad; you were right on the mark with your comments on Keach’s beautiful moment. It’s that the film doesn’t give the actors much to do. I should have cried in this film, but the only tears I had were from me yawning during the film.

Judd: I adore Stacy Keach. He can play gruff and grumpy and at the drop of a hat give a performance like the one here in If I Stay. It is actually kind of unfortunate, but funny, that the most talked about role in this movie made for and staring a teenage girl will be Stacy Keach! He manages to steal the whole movie from Moretz in a three minute monologue. Regardless, I agree with you that the script is what is at fault here. Less time seeing concerts and more time developing the characters would have made this a much more impactful film.

Swanner: Frankly I’m just tired of these shows. You mentioned John Hughes and it’s true he angst up the teenage storyline, especially the female stories, but they were always funny and fun on the road to hormone city. This current batch of tearjerkers has these teenagers going through major adult storylines. Granted, not being liked by someone in high school was the end of the world but Hughes made it familiar and with plenty of humor so we still learned our lesson and got a laugh for our trouble. If I Stay should be the question the audience asks themselves as they shell out $10 bucks to see it.

Swanner: 1 ½ stars
Judd: 2 stars

When the Game Stands Tall


Judd: In 2004 Bob Ladouceur, had coached the De La Salle Spartans to a 151 game winning streak. When, suddenly, that streak is broken, Bob and his team must come to grips with facts that victories aren’t given and must be earned in this faith based, inspired by a true story, by the book sports movie.

Swanner: As faith based movies go this is a bit more heavy-handed than Heaven Is For Real for instance. A little goes a long way. That portion of the film didn’t bother me though, I knew De La Salle was a religious high school so it was a given, I just though the film was too long. They could have cut out a few games to speed things along. Here again like so many teen film out lately, no one is having a good time. Where are the Fast Times and Clueless movie of yesterday?

Judd: I was expecting more religion, actually, but I guess since the movie wasn’t about the rapture, they can only take the religious aspect so far. I agree the movie was too long, and that some of the game highlights felt like a full game. It also felt like the last 20 minutes were tacked on only to fulfill the last couple of sports movie tropes. The movie should have ended when the Spartans won their first “big game” after losing. But no, they couldn’t let us go without the “Rudy Moment” and the “Over Zealous Sports Dad Moment”.

Swanner: The secondary storylines were awfully predictable and tired. I think they might have also cut out some scenes for the lack of time. They’d start a storyline and the character would disappear and then reappear later. The one big one involved two graduates are heading to college, one is killed and the other ended up leaving for college and reappearing at the end with his life all turned around. It felt incomplete. I did like the acting in the film, especially Laura Dern’s lovely portrayal of the supportive coach’s wife.

Judd: I was thinking about the dropped plot lines. They could have easily used the games as a catalyst for the father of the deceased boy mourning and healing. It would have more emotional than the story of Tiny Tim and the All-Star with the asshole father.

Swanner: Agreed. The film was directed by Thomas Carter with a screenplay by Scott Marshall Smith based on Neil Hayes book of the same name. If I cared more I’d almost like to see how much of the film is fabricated but I don’t care enough. For late August, it’s not a terrible movie and although I thought there were too many football sequences they were the most interesting part of the movie and shot really well. If you like the big football movies you’ll probably find something here you’ll enjoy otherwise I’d sit on the bench.

Swanner: 2 stars
Judd: 1 ½ stars

The Expendables 3


Swanner: Last night I went to see The Expendables 3 alone. This came from a coin toss gone wrong… gone wrong for me. I probably should mention I never saw part one or two of this franchise, so like most of you, this was my first exposure to the material. Barney (Stallone) discovers that his old partner turned crime boss, Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), is alive, Barney hires some new blood to help him seek his revenge. Director Patrick Hughes does well at keeping the action moving but the lack of a good editing drags this film out to 2 hours and 7 minutes.

The only reason I bitch about the film’s length is because first, the film could have been a tighter unit with better editing and second, this kind of action picture shouldn’t be longer than 1:40. After all, you’re asking an audience to believe the golden girls still can be mercenaries well into their 70’s and the longer the film goes that harder it is to believe. I always try to watch movies as if I was in the demographic the film is suppose to be made for, so watching a mindless action picture is a stretch for me. On a shoot’um up blow’em up scale the film delivers. It’s just campy enough to make it funny and there are actually some good performances. I forget how good Mel Gibson can be as an actor because he became such an obnoxious celebrity. Gibson really has some fun with his bad guy roll and that crosses over to the audience. Antonio Banderas also shines as a new recruits that just never stops talking.

As Brian and I have discussed before, they are making movies for the elderly. The films have stars the audience grew up with, so maybe the facelift at 35/40 might become a thing of the past. Maybe actors will embrace getting older and then maybe the audience will too…probably not, but it’s a dream. The film also stars Harrison Ford, Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren and even a few young faces Ronda Rousey, Victor Ortiz and a bearded Kellan Lutz. It all comes down to whether you like these films. If you do, then this one rocks. If you don’t, go see the 100 Foot Journey…its really good. Ultimately, I was entertained but that doesn’t mean I’ll ever see the movie again.

Swanner: 2 stars

Magic in the Moonlight


Swanner: In the past few years it’s been great looking forward to the next Woody Allen film. I so loved Midnight in Paris, Match Point and Blue Jasmine so hearing Magic in the Moonlight sounded like it was going to be a romantic comedy with something special. A well known magician (Colin Firth) is ask to try to expose a psychic (Emma Stone) who is scamming some gullible aristocrats. Or is she for real? Allen, who both wrote and directed the film, paints a beautiful picture but the final product is missing those Woodyisms that make his comedies fun.

Judd: I agree with the highlights you called out, but after Match Point came regrettable Scoop; after Midnight in Paris came the forgettable To Rome with Love. Allen has a very hit or miss career, and fortunately for him his hits far outweigh the misses. When it comes to comedies that miss the mark, I wouldn’t say that Magic in the Moonlight was as far off as Scoop, but I think what Magic wasn’t nearly as droll as Allen thought it was. The first part of the movie could have been much broader, and the love story could have been left out altogether. For me, that is what really brought the movie down.

Swanner: The love story in inevitable but the handling of the material and actually the material itself is the problem. The supporting characters were dull. They should be the bread and butter here. If this was made in the 30’s we would have been rolling with laughter. The leads had some snappy quips but no punch. I’ve been blaming the script but now I think it’s the direction. Allen should have been channeling Frank Capra because he never let a laugh die. Go back to It Happened One Night or You Can’t Take it With You and you’ll see how this material should have been handled. You’re right about the hit and miss with Allen. This one is all on him and it’s definitely a miss.

Judd: The movie opens with Firth as the “Oriental Mystic” Wei Ling Soo performing his act. When the show’s over, and as he’s taking off his makeup and wig, he turns into this ranting misanthrope and I thought to myself, “This role would have been perfect for John Cleese 30 years ago.” I thought it was that kind of energy the whole movie would have carried, but as soon as we met the love interest, the whole thing mellowed. Allen wanted to focus to shift to Firth and Stone, making a cast of should-have-been loony millionaires blend into the wallpaper.

Swanner: Blend they did. Imagine Margaret Dumont or Lela Bliss as the older women. Hysterical!!! If this was onstage with the right director this would be great. Allen could have played this a over the top as Bullets over Broadway and it would have killed. Besides being pretty to look at the film just disappoints. It’s not a terrible film…it just missed it’s mark.

Judd: Agreed. but that’s not to take away from the performers that are in the movie. Hamish Linklater, Jacki Weaver, Simon McBurney and Marcia Gay Harden are all fantastic with what they were directed to do. Oh well, not everything can be an Allen gem.

Swanner: 2 stars
Judd: 2 Stars

The One-Hundred Foot Journey


Swanner: The Hundred-Foot Journey tells the story of an Indian family looking for a home after their home in India is burned by terrorist. They travel around Europe finally deciding on France (it’s where their car breaks down…it’s a sign!!!) right across the street from Madame Mallory’s French restaurant. A clash of culture ensues till Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) realizes young Hassan (Manish Dayal) is a food prodigy who she wants for her own restaurant.

Judd:  Running at just over 2 hours and based on a best-selling book that I did not read, The Hundred-Foot Journey seems to cover all the points of the book without selective editing, at the same time flattening the characters into boring archetypes. Helen Mirren is the food snob who lives 200 years in the culinary past and hates her new, noisy, smelly neighbors. Add a laugh track and you’ve got a crappy sitcom on CBS.

Swanner:  It’s a comedy. It’s supposed to be funny and two hours is not out of the question for a Romcom of this type. The lead characters are very fleshed out and I was cheering on these people. There were wonderful moments like after some hooligans write graffiti on their stone fench and Mallory realizes the behavior was due to her bigotry and the change that take place in all the characters. I know you hate your neighbors but sometime you just have to get along with the people around you. They did it here beautifully.

Judd:  The movie had no heart. At the beginning of the film, Hassan is talking about leaving England because the food has no soul. Not English food, per se, but the ingredients have no soul. You can’t cook a meal that delights the senses if your ingredients don’t have a spark. This sums up the movie. The performances are fine, the scenery and cinematography is gorgeous, but the film itself has no soul. Chef, the “food film” from earlier this summer, refuses to die at the theatres because it has heart in spades, and that’s what brings audiences in. There are so many plots going on, that instead of focusing on a few, all of them are thrown in and none of them are nurtured. I’m sure the book did a better job at expounding on all the character developments, but it didn’t happen in the movie.

Swanner:  I’m sure the book developed all the characters you obviously wanted to know better but the main four, which the film is about, are perfectly well developed. You say the movie has no soul??? I guess I can see where you wouldn’t recognize what a soul is considering you’ve never had one. This may not be as good as Chef (my favorite film of the year) but it’s still a lovely, warmhearted, romantic treat in the middle of this crappy summer of films.

Judd:  You know I’m right, or you wouldn’t resort to name calling, you fat teenage girl. Are you going to start bullying me on Facebook, too? For something that is supposed to be grand, delightful and even a little sensuous, the movie is bland, sterile and chaste. At one point, director Lasse Hallstrom has fireworks going off when two main characters find their attraction for each other; the literal fireworks are the only one on the screen. At no point did I ever feel that passion that Marguerite and Hassan must have shared in the book. Food is passionate; The Hundred-Foot Journey is about at passionate as a hospital cafeteria.

Swanner: 3 1/2 stars
Judd: Two stars