Swanner: Everything needs to be a franchise in the area of sci-fi/fantasy anymore. Hunger Games worked out, where Beautiful Creatures and Mortal Instruments… not so well. The Divergent Series is one that did better than most, but never achieved that blockbuster standing. This week book 2, Insurgent, hits the theaters with a medium smattering of excitement. At this point in the story, Tess (Shailene Woodley) accepts being a divergent and starts to build an army to battle Jeanine (Kate Winslet) and her soldiers.

The biggest problem with a middle book is that its usually a transitional piece, prepping the audience for the final book. Once again, the studio has decided to split the final book leaving Insurgent to stand on it’s own and, happily, it does; things happen here that actually advance the story. There is plenty of action and secrets to be revealed. Where Mockingjay fills time ’til the final film opens, Insurgent performs.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the best film ever, but I did like it better than Divergent. There is a real story here to uncover, and it teases you with what we don’t know. Part of that was probably because Oscar winner Akira Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind) is one of the writers. Mark Bomback (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) and Brian Duffield complete the writing staff, with Robert Schwendke (RED) directing. Veronica Roth’s series of books offer up an exciting post apocalyptic world, and the angsty teen storyline works in it. Not to fear, Theo James (Four) is back to keep hearts a flutter.

Swanner: 3 Stars

The Gunman


Swanner: In the new film The Gunman, Sean Penn plays James, a hit man that works undercover in third world countries as a humanitarian worker. He’s building homes or creating clean drinking water but when called upon he’s a killer. Seven years since his last kill someone is trying to kill him and everyone associated with that killing. Pierre Morel (Taken) directs.

Judd: Also starring Idris Elba, Javier Bardem, and Ray Winston, I was looking forward to The Gunman. With a cast like that I was hoping that it was going to be an action movie with some brains. Boy, was I sadly mistaken. I was completely bored within the first 10 minutes, and hitting my imaginary fast-forward button by the 30 minute point. The movie barely has a plot, yet is oddly convoluted, and the female character sets women’s rights back to the Stone Age. Her character was so pointless and worthless, she could have been substituted by an egg – or something equally fragile and inanimate – and it would have made no difference to the plot.

Swanner: I don’t know if i’m numb to these movies because this just seemed like all the other action movies. The difference here is Sean Penn stars so it feels like it’s got a little more street cred. On the subject of Penn, he debuts his new body. It was almost distracting but i found a way to suffer through. Totally agree on the girl. She’s so worthless he might as well be dragging around a bag of potatoes. It would have gotten weird when he had sex with the potatoes but much more interesting.

Judd: You must be numb. While there isn’t much diversity when it comes to action movies of this particular niche, they usually have something that makes them different enough to separate them from the herd. Sean Penn alone, is not enough to make this action-by-numbers film a standout. There wasn’t even a reason for the European tour the movie took us on; it’s not like the locations were used for anything special. The more I think about it, this was a vanity project for Penn to establish himself as an action star and have a fully funded vacation at the same time. He pulled a Sandler.

Swanner: I was thinking it was more of his mid-life crisis. Tired of being offered to play fathers to the up and coming, he’s taking the Liam Neeson road of retired assassin. It still pays the rent. I don’t really like these movies. They are just loud and dumb, but I have to see at least a dozen every year, so I numb myself up and clench every time a bomb goes off, or they kill the the good guy that was just trying to help. It’s all the same to me but if you like it…

Judd: I don’t mind shoot’em up action movies, but The Gunman is nothing better than straight-to-video garbage. I expected more from this cast, and worst of all, none of them seemed to be having any fun. When Samuel L Jackson makes a “Buy a Beach House” stinker, the viewer knows he’s having a blast and that he’s not taking the work too seriously. Penn is an intense actor and I don’t think he knows the meaning of fun, which is why if he’s going to take the Action Hero route, he needs to be a little more discriminate.

Swanner: 2 stars
Judd: No stars



Swanner: We all know the story of Cinderella. Mother dies, Father remarries a woman with two daughters, Father dies and the stepmother makes Cinderella’s life miserable. How can you make it new and different? First thing you do is hire Kenneth Branagh (Much Ado About Nothing) to direct and you have Chris Weitz (About a Boy) script it. Then you look at the story through different eyes. If you think about it, the story’s only a fairytale when the fairy godmother shows up. Until then it’s a tragic story of child abuse and finding love. Branagh and crew made it real.

I have to admit I didn’t see it coming. Lily James plays Cinderella as if she was any girl struggling to survive after her parents have died, and she’s left with a woman who doesn’t want her as anything more than a servant. The stepmother, played brilliantly by Cate Blanchett, just wanted a man to take care of her. Unhappy people looking for their happily ever after. When The Ball is announced, the stepmother sees this as a way of pawning off a daughter so she can move herself into the castle. Once the fairy godmother arrives (Helena Bonham Carter) and magic happens we move, for a moment, into make believe, but before you can say Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo we are at the ball and you know the rest of the story. There is nothing really different to the story, just the way it’s approached. Think of it like BBC Shakespeare meets Downton Abbey.

The look of the film is so delicious and lush. From Cinderella’s home, to the grounds of the palace, everything is a delight for the eyes. The cinematography, costumes and score all add to the experience. When all is said and done it’s the real performances that make this film so relatable. Even the step sisters are played down as if they were just mean girls with no thought to others… you know, bitches. Branagh has created a world that could be ours. People looking for love, looking to move up in this world and looking to be happy. This is the first time Cinderella isn’t a fairytale. It’s real life with a little hope they call magic

Swanner: 4 stars

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel


Swanner: After the success or the first Marigold Hotel someone thought they could find the magic again. They brought back the original cast and added a few new characters, but does lightning strike twice? I would give you the plot, but this review comes with limited space. Let’s just say that Sonny (Dev Patel) wants to expand and open another hotel and then the hilarity commences.

Judd: The hilarity commences? When? I loved the first Best Exotic; it’s a great movie with a very broad appeal. A fantastic, “mature” British cast, filmed exotic India with a stranger in a strange land story, combined with a Life Begins at 60 with a sprinkle of an honest (for a movie) love story; the first movie had something for everyone. With the magic of India overlooked, and our characters already firmly rooted in their new home, The Second Best turns into a geriatric romcom that’s best left alone.

Swanner: I liked it more than you, but the script is what fails here. Written like it was a high schooler writing a sitcom, it relies on cheap laughs trying to cover the huge plot holes that you find yourself wondering where that motivation came from. I kept waiting for Maggie Smith or Judi Dench to stop the action and refuse to continue with the feces smeared on the page. That is not to say it’s unwatchable, with this amazing cast they pull the film up from it’s doom to make it just entertaining enough.

Judd: You liked it more than me and you’re saying that the script was fecal-stained? While I’m not going to disagree, that’s some pretty strong language! I think if they pared down the number of plot lines and focused on two or three of them instead of the dozen that were in the script, it would have been a much better film. Going back and doing the math, almost each character had two sources of conflict to resolve by the end. That’s too much for any movie.

Swanner: Look, when Sonny thinks he knows who is the real inspector is I flashed back to every sitcom that has played that scene and I shut down. I’m just happy to see Maggie and Judy. I curled up to the beautiful set decoration and the thoughts of Chicken Masala and stopped trying to make sense of the script. Of course I wasn’t happy when Richard Gere says he’s 65 and the audience gasped, but this is a story of finding love again and realizing there is so much more life to live. Maybe even for you, Brian… Maybe even for you.

Judd: Oh thank you for those warm wishes. But, instead of going all the way to India to find this contrived love story, I’ll go down to San Diego and hang out at the Regal Beagle to take a step that is new. The only thing missing from The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was door slamming and someone hiding behind the couch — and the only reason for that, none of the cast can get down on the floor without help anymore.

Swanner: 2 stars
Judd: 1 star