PODCAST: SJ33: John Wick; Ouija

White Background LogoSwanner and Judd talk about John Wick and Ouija

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Ouija

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Swanner: A few weeks ago, Brian and I were discussing what Brian and I thought was scary. Brian liked the 60’s and 70’s camp, gore horror while I like subtle, scary movies like Insidious and The Conjuring. So, when it came to who would review Ouija, and who would review John Wick, Brian took Wick and I, alone, ventured to see Ouija. The film is about a teenaged girl, Debbie (she looked older and is played by a 27 year old actress), who has been playing alone with her Ouija Board. First rule of Ouija is never play alone. Debbie has unlocked something evil, and it convinces her to do herself in, but her friends know something isn’t right. Laine, Debbie’s best friend, finds the Ouija Board and convinces all of Debbie’s friends to get together for one last chance to say goodbye… of course this goodbye takes place in Debbie’s house with the Ouija Board. Will they be talking to Debbie on the Ouija Board? Of course not.

That is the basic plot. For the next 83 minutes Debbie’s friends will all be hunted by this evil until it ends the way you suspect it will. Now, I’m not saying it wasn’t scary fun… because it was. I’m just saying it’s predictable and that’s okay. (Especially if you’re watching it alone) The cast is made up of young up and coming actors, while the director is a special effects man turned director, Stiles White. Simon Kinberg and Juliet Snowden wrote the script. As predictable as the film is, it still has a lot of scares. This is the perfect October date movie because it’s scary, but its PG-13 rating keeps it from sending your date home after the film because she’s too frightened.

This isn’t the best horror movie of the year, but it’s a solid, scary, and it’s short. I didn’t have time to look for too many flaws because it moved well and I was pretty terrified… I was by myself remember. Overall, the film is well made and the cast does a good job. As far as Ouija Board movies go, this is one of the better ones. It’s not breaking any new ground, but if you’re looking for a scare this weekend, this one works, but don’t expect it to be around too long.

Swanner 2 1/2 stars

John Wick

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Judd: John Wick is a retired hitman who recently lost his wife to some mysterious illness. When someone then comes and steals his ‘69 Boss 429 Mustang and kills his dog, he’s more than a little upset. Keanu Reeves plays the titular character, with a script by newcomer Derek Colstad and directed by first timers David Leitch and Chad Stahelski. David and Chad, however, are no strangers to action movies; both men have done coordinated stunts for countless big action movies over the years, including “fight masterpieces” 300, Fight Club and the Bourne Movies. These guys know how choreograph a fight scene, and John Wick is proof.

The movie by itself is terrible. The first 15 minutes of the movie is a mishmash of odd cuts and edits, giving the audience John’s recent backstory. His wife or girlfriend died from a tragic and emotional illness, and leaves him a puppy to remind him of her. From there, John takes his car to a heavily guarded, but seeming unused landing tarmac, to do some burnouts, drifting and other fancy driving. Why? Who knows, other than it looked cool. While fueling up after his car shenanigans, he’s approached by some Russian no-goodniks who appreciate his car. Refer to the beginning of this review if you’ve forgotten what happens next.

From there the movie is one highly stylized fight after another, with appearances from some familiar faces such as Michael Nyquist, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Adrianne Palicki and Lance Reddick. The weakest actor in the movie is Keanu, which is no surprise. During the film, I kept thinking of the number of actors that should have played the role. Viggo Mortsen kept popping in my head, with his similar movies, A History of Violence and Eastern Promises. I don’t think Reeves is capable of the depth the character could have had, and the fact that he was with virgin directors compounded the problem.

I really liked the look of the movie; you can tell that Leitch and Stahelski have a clear vision and a knack for visuals. It’s their inexperience behind the camera, though, that bring the movie down. The weird montage in the beginning felt like an amateurish attempt at being interesting, and the overall flat character portrayals from actors capable of much better can only be attributed to these virgin directors. However, the fight scenes and sound design can only be described as amazing. These guys know how to stage a fight; they kept the camera trained on the footwork and the choreography was tight, fast and perfectly executed. I don’t think I’ve seen better fighting than the trailer fight between Uma Thurman and Darryl Hannah in Kill Bill. The sound of the gun fights was crisp and different from what you normally hear in movies like this. It seems like a small thing, but it really makes an impact.

I don’t know if I would recommend John Wick, given that it’s not a good movie. Leitch and Stahelski should stick with coordinating stunts, of which they are masters, and leave the directing to more capable hands. Who knows, maybe they’ll hone their craft as time goes on, but as it stands they’re not there yet.

Judd: 2 1/2 stars

Fury

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Swanner: We all know by now that Brian doesn’t like romantic comedies and I don’t like war movies…so why am I seeing a screening of Fury? This is a film about a World War 2 tank and its crew as they gun down Nazi’s in German. It stars Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf and Logan Lehman. Its 134 minutes of guys stuck in a tank!!! Directed and written by David Ayer (End of Watch).

Judd: You saw the movie before me and let me know how you felt about it. When you said it was 134 minutes of guys stuck in a tank, I thought you might be exaggerating. You weren’t. Outside of an awkward dinner scene where the guys talked about killing horses, the majority of the movie took place inside of a tank. The graphic gore and violence of the movie reminded of a quote from the brilliant critic Brian Judd, “…movies like (this) are made for viewers who fit in a very particular niche – armchair soldiers… who were too fat, too stupid or too cowardly to join the military themselves… Or, the mercenary psychopaths who can only get a boner watching people die.” That was about Lone Survivor. It also applies to Fury.

Swanner:I thought it was just me. I mean the acting was good once they stopped using strange accents, but I saw Locke earlier this year and it seemed less claustrophobic — and that took place in the front seat of a car for 90 minutes. I’m not sure if that was the intention… if it was, then great, you’ve succeeded. This is a movie for people who like war movies and definitely not the date movie guys were hoping for.

Judd: I don’t like this new wave of war movies where the entertainment factor comes solely from the horrifically realistic portrayal warfare. We could copy our review of Lone Survivor almost word for word and it would fit for Fury. All the performances were good, with Shia earning some goodwill after his assholish behavior in the recent past. However, I think the script was thin and relied on gunfights/tank fights and the dazzle of tracer rounds to carry the tension. Although I’ve got to say I’m happy to see Hollywood move past slavery and go back to the Holocaust and WWII for its Oscar Baiting.

Swanner: Look at you finding a silver lining. I am glad we’ve moved off slavery and AIDS but I’m not happy it’s back to WWII. When you can make movies like Pride, St. Vincent and Chef, who needs WWII to Oscar bait? I was also a bit surprised that this wasn’t based on something real. At least Lone Survivor was based on something. It’s a well-made movie with good acting but not a great movie they were hoping. I was moved by the three previously mentioned movies but not for Fury, and I should have been. I think that says a lot.

Judd: I think if more time was spent with the characters, getting to know them, rather than watch them, literally, fight for their lives, it would have been a great film. It’s the reason Saving Private Ryan is the current gold standard when it comes to war movies. Beyond the violence, there is heart, which Fury is unfortunately lacking.

Swanner: 2 stars
Judd: 2 ½ stars

St Vincent

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Judd: Vincent (Bill Murray) is a crabby, drunken misanthrope who regulars a middle-aged, pregnant whore (Naomi Watts). The day his new neighbors move in, a single mother and her young year old son (Melissa McCarthy and Jaeden Lieberher) Vincent is recovering from what probably is a fairly routine hangover. One thing leads to another, and Vincent ends up babysitting and befriending the boy while his mother works at the local hospital. St Vincent is a routine, but extremely well done dramedy that features one of Murray’s best performances on film.

Swanner: Theodore Melfi serves as director and writer on this incredible little gem. With very little experience, Melfi creates a real world where people work, pay bills and have flaws…in some cases lots of flaws but all these people are real. It’s hard to believe a first time feature director/writer can produce characters so real and rich with wisdom and life. I was floored with the film.

Judd: I agree. I really liked the script, and even though it teetered on the melodramatic, I don’t think it ever crossed into that territory, like the recent film, The Judge. Vincent’s troubles with his wife, drinking, gambling — we’ve all seen it before — but the difference here is that there is an earnestness about the film as a whole. Vincent, as a character, was extremely real to me. More so than, I can say, any other character from any other movie that I’ve ever seen. I was absolutely swept away with him.

Swanner: It’s definitely Murray picture. His performance is real and the people around him have to fall in line with him. McCarthy and Watts are both in supporting roles but they give big performances. We were bitching about how McCarthy needs to step out and prove how good she can be and she does here. Watts gets to play comedy, which is nice after seeing her always play drama. Finally, Jaeden Lieberher, who plays McCarthy’s son, was fantastic and Murray couldn’t have asked for a better co-star. Lieberher reminded me of Chris Makepeace who played Rudy in Meatballs. The scenes Murray has with both child actors shows that W. C. Fields was wrong about acting with children. Murray can do it and do it very well

Judd: As far as McCarthy goes, we all know she can shed a tear on command, and in this instance it was appropriate, but I wouldn’t say she was a stand out. Though I will say it was better to see her in this role than a dressed down glamourpuss. The cast, as a whole, was slovenly and greatly added to the feel of the movie. People that look like this cast, in other movies, tend to be white-trash, skid row addicts a la Gone Baby Gone or The Fighter. I really, really liked this movie. Between St. Vincent and Pride, I’m going to have to start sneaking tissues into the theatre with me.

Swanner: I agree this wasn’t a movie that people who think they are movie stars make. There is nothing glamorous about the film. This is a film for actors. It’s a film that tells the story of people we never see in films and if we do, as you said, they are the white trash neighbors with too many dogs. I am totally in love with this film and I plan to sing it’s praises till award season.

Swanner: 4 stars
Judd: 4 stars