The Good Dinosaur


Swanner: “The Good Dinosaur” asks the question: What if the asteroid that forever changed life on Earth missed the planet completely and giant dinosaurs never became extinct? In this epic journey into the world of dinosaurs, an Apatosaurus named Arlo makes an unlikely human friend. While traveling through a harsh and mysterious landscape, Arlo learns the power of confronting his fears and discovers what he is truly capable of. That’s how Pixar explains the storyline because if I wrote it out it would sound like The Lion King.


I’m not trying to say this isn’t a good movie, I’m just saying that the stories are similar. I’d be surprised if no one noticed the pterodactyls sounding like the Hyenas and how Arlo looses his father in a flash flood which is similar to a stampede. There are more similarities but I don’t want to spoil anything. My only other complaint was that it felt too much like a kids film and less like a true Pixar film, which made me think Disney (Pixar’s parent company) said they need a dinosaur movie so they can merchandise the crap out of it. (Think Cars)

All that being said, it’s still the best of the animated dinosaur movies that have come out. I mean it’s Pixar. The emotions are real and the characters are fully realized. They do use the process of a real background that they then animate over, which was beautiful and well done. The biggest problem The Good Dinosaur has is living up to Pixar’s June release of Inside Out which many critics think will be a Best Picture nominee. Being second best to Inside Out is still a great place to be.

Swanner: 3 stars



Judd: Americans have always had a love affair with it’s gangsters, real and fictional. Capone, Corleone, Bulger, Montana — the list is endless. The problem with this love affair is that while it’s relatively ethnically diverse, unless these mobsters are running a syndicate in the Good Ol’ US of A, equally charming crime families are overlooked. Legend, written and directed by Brian Helgeland (42, LA Confidential), and starring Tom Hardy and Tom Hardy as twin brothers Ronnie and Reggie Kray, tells the true story of a East End crime family from across the pond.

The movie picks up not from the beginning of their rise, but about half way through, after the Krays have defeated a rival family and have started taking over London nightlife by running clubs, casinos and protection rackets. Reggie is the beautiful and charming brother who knows what it means to have good public relations. To keep the Rich and Famous feeling naughty by association, but never in danger. Ronnie is the exact opposite. He is a savage, paranoid schizophrenic homosexual, who enjoys the violent side of being a gangster. Roles that are Tom Hardy’s bread and butter.

Before I go on to gushing over Tom Hardy’s performance, Legend has it’s issues. The film is narrated by Reggie’s wife in a voiceover, and throughout the movie I kept wondering, “In what other gangster movie do they use the wife as a narrator? Casino? Good Fellas? The Departed?” I couldn’t remember, but it struck me that not being able to remember wasn’t the problem. Confusing so many of these movies for each other is the real problem. The Crime Movie is a genre where it’s easy to fall into the cliched, and Legend does nothing to bring something new to the party. The only thing that I felt Legend brought to the table, was that it was more character centric than it’s peers.

Which brings me to Tom as Ronnie and Reggie. Reggie divides his time between his business obligations and his wife, Frances (played by Emily Browning), with his wife receiving the short end of the stick. He uses his looks and his charm as his biggest weapons, but isn’t afraid to resort to violence or using his brother as muscle, when necessary. His loyalty to his brother is unbreakable, even when it becomes a detriment, a fact the film exploits to it’s fullest. This is Tom Hardy from Inception.

Ronnie on the other hand, is unabashedly unrefined, yet oddly eloquent. Heavyset and with a battered face, Ronnie lives in a trailer in the woods, loves the violence of being a gangster, and has no problem with speaking of his homosexuality, which I found most fascinating. Homosexuality was a crime at the time, not to mention gays were all considered foppish poofs. Ronnie believed it was best to live honestly and anyone that had a problem with it would be in for a world of hurt. Ronnie flew in the face of stereotypes of the time. Coarse but articulate; queer but violent. This is Tom Hardy from Bronson.

I can’t imagine any other actor, outside of a young Marlon Brando, that would be able to play two such diametrically opposed characters to the success that Hardy has, let alone play the characters in the same movie. From the different body types, facial expressions, mannerisms, ways of speaking and interacting with other characters and each other, Hardy characterizes each man with aplomb. If there is any reason to see Legend, it is for Hardy’s performances. Otherwise, Legend is nothing more than just another gangster movie, but this one as a cockney accent.

Judd:  2 1/2 stars



Swanner: In 1947, Dalton Trumbo was the highest paid screenwriter of his time. Actors and Directors wanted to work with him; Studio Moguls knew his movies made money. He had everything he could ever want, including a lake, but in 1947 America was afraid of Russia and communists… Dalton Trumbo was a card carrying Communist. Communists in Hollywood went to prison and on the government’s Black List, this kept studios from hiring them. Trumbo found a way to write and this film follows hit post Black List career.

Bryan Cranston plays Trumbo with style and conviction; graced with with Trumbo’s signature mustache, Cranston owns ever scene he plays. The rest of the cast supports and shines, Michael Stuhlbarg, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Louie C.K. and Alan Tudyk. John Goodman’s moment with the government agent turns the film from seeming hopelessness, to a light at the end of the tunnel. Director Jay Roach guides us through this terrible time in our nation’s history with a lovely smart script by John McNamara, from the book Dalton Trumbo by Bruce Cook.

If you know anything or nothing about the Black Listing that went on during this time period, you’re going to get some schooling. One can’t help but see how similar this time period is to where we are now. How fear and paranoia can change the way we feel about our neighbors. Now media outlets can twist truths, putting peoples lives in danger and changing the landscape from love to fear. Hopefully Trumbo will educate and make the population say never again.

Swanner: 3 ½ stars

Mockingjay Part 2


Swanner: It’s over. Mockingjay Part 2 ends The Hunger Games series. Never a big fan of the series, I am glad to see it completed, and as much as I’d love to critique the whole story, I’m just here for this final film. The film starts where the last film finished, with the rebels ready to fight the Capitol and Katniss to have a final one on one with President Snow.

I’m sure the fans of this series are excited. They’ve waited four long years for this finale and I think for the most part they will be pleased. For those of us who were just along for the ride or have to review films, well, the film felt incredibly long. There are lengthy scenes that mean nothing to the story, and quiet moments that eat up screen time. This film could have been an hour forty with a bang of an ending, but unfortunately, it wasn’t. Speaking of the ending, or should I say endings? I almost stood up to leave three or four times only to have another lovely scene that might mean something to someone. That someone wasn’t me. 

Not liking the first film, but then really liking the second, I had great hopes for the third. Then the third film was split turned it into a transition piece with very little happening and part two giving us that pay off we lacked in part one. What this all proves is that the studios will gut a story for a chance at another payday. It is good, but wouldn’t great had been a better plan? I don’t want to make this sound unwatchable, it’s still a good film, I’m just disappointed in the politics. After all, when you have Jennifer Lawrence, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in your film you know the acting is worth the watch. 

Swanner: 2 stars



Swanner: The Boston Globe has a group of journalists called Spotlight. It’s the group that uncovers bad politicians, crooked judges, bad cops and in 2001-2002, they took on the Catholic church. That’s what this film is about, how these journalist uncovered one of the biggest scandals in the churches history; how the church handles their pedophile priests; who knew and when. I remember when this was happening, but there is so much more than we were told.

The brilliant cast is lead by Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber and Brian d’Arcy James; directed by Tom McCarthy, from a script by McCarthy and Josh Singer. I mention all their names because on the day they announce the Oscar nominations, many of the same names will be announced. This is a movie that leaves you exhausted and pissed off. The film makes this personal by bringing in the stories of the children that were abused by these men. One of the characters tells how it wasn’t just the physical abuse but the spiritual abuse, these children lost their faith when they lost their innocence.

To say this is one of the best pictures of the year would be an understatement. It tells a story you might not want to hear, but one all should see. I’m not a religious person, but I know many who are, and look to their spiritual leaders to guide them through their lives. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to have that taken from you in such a manner. Movies don’t always have to be pretty to be great, so don’t judge this film on it’s story but judge it on it’s storytellers.

Swanner: 4 stars



Judd: New to video on demand is Sundance Film Festival darling Tangerine, the story of two transexual prostitutes, Sin-Dee and Alexandra, who spend the day wandering the streets of Los Angeles in search of the cis-gendered female who had sex with Sin-Dee’s pimp/boyfriend while she was in jail for 28 days. Written and directed by Sean Baker, known for Greg the Bunny, Tangerine is a ultra low budget indie comedy shot entirely on an iPhone. While there is no question that Tangerine is low budget, the descriptor “comedy” is a stretch.

Billed as the first movie shot on an iPhone — while technically true, 2011’s Olive was the first feature length movie shot on an HD smartphone —there is plenty to admire about Tangerine. While it doesn’t have the same visual effect that grainy, gritty, low-end film used back in my day provided, using a small digital lens to film a movie adds a new, slicker yet equally gritty look and feel to the movie. The movie feels raw, and in a time when aspiring filmmakers have access to so much software to add polish to their end product, a movie that avoids that — intentionally or financially — feels fresh.

How they bill this as a comedy is anybody’s guess. The movie spends a full hour of it’s one hour, 27 minute runtime, tracking Sin-Dee as she storms through the streets of LA, demanding to find her pimp/boyfriend Chester, and “that real fish he been fuckin’ ” while Alexandra tags along handing out flyers for her show at a local club. None of it is particularly funny, and most of it is just plain mean. I know witty banter and bon mots would go against them being uneducated street trade, but the script felt like it was written by someone trying to be funny, but comes across as an asshole.

I think the emotional heft that seems to have charmed the Sundance elite came from the fact that the movie treats Sin-Dee and Alexandra as neither diamond-in-the-rough Pretty Women, nor trans, junky whores, with nothing to live for. Yes, there was drug use, and the film’s ending dissolves into a tense, but extremely realistic situation regarding one of Alexandra’s Johns, his wife and his mother-in-law, but throughout it all the girls come across as real (real obnoxious), not glamorous or pitiful; at the end of the day, these girls still have hope for a better life.

The question comes down to whom would I recommend Tangerine. I think it has it’s merits, for certain. I think it’s fantastic that there is finally a movie about two trans prostitutes that aren’t dealing with addiction or AIDS. Tangerine is moving gay film into new territory that is long overdue. Unfortunately, I also think the script has very little substance, and what substance it has comes too late. Tangerine is for hardcore fans of indie and queer cinema. But I have a sincere hope that it triggers a renaissance of LGBT films where we’re finally seen as people who are more than tragic victims or heroic survivors, facing problems that are larger, or better yet, more petty than coming out, HIV and addiction.

Judd: 2 ½ stars

Love the Coopers


Swanner: When I critique a Christmas movie, I have to view it with different eyes. Christmas movies don’t play by the same rules as other movies. The storylines are usually simple, they have goofy moments, flashbacks are common and they always end happily. Love The Coopers is the same.  Charlotte (Diane Keaton) and Sam (John Goodman) are expecting their family to gather at their home for a Christmas Eve dinner. Of course, everything goes wrong, hilarity ensues.

Steven Roger’s (P.S. I Love You) screenplay uses the multiple storylines, much like Love, Actually or New Years Eve, for us to meet all the characters and understand their angst. All the stories coming together in the end as any Holiday film would. Director Jessie Nelson (I am Sam) keeps the pace light even though some extreme situations come to surface. Remember, it’s a Christmas movie, things have to work out by Christmas Eve… It’s the rule. 

People who liked Keaton’s previous holiday film The Family Stone should like this one as well. The film has a huge cast which includes Ed Helms, Amanda Seyfried, Alan Arkin, Olivia Wilde, Marisa Tomei, Alex Borstein, Anthony Mackie and June Squibb. I love Christmas Movies. I have a stack of DVD’s and Blurays that come out near Thanksgiving and stay ‘til the tree comes down. Love The Coopers will find a home on that stack. 

Swanner: 3 stars