The Hateful Eight


Swanner: We just saw The Hateful Eight in an hour ago, and I’m still very excited. I’m a huge Tarantino fan, and while the rest of the world waited for Star Wars, I waited for Tarantino’s newest gift, a post civil war western. The film follows John Ruth (Kurt Russell) a bounty hunter handcuffed to Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), his bounty, that he’s taking to Red Rock to hang. Along the way to Red Rock they pick up two strangers, but because of a impending storm they have to stop at a 1800’s rest stop called Minnie’s Haberdashery and then all hell breaks loose.

The movie also features Tarantino Players Tim Roth as Red Rock Hangman Oswaldo Mobray, Samuel L Jackson as Union Major Marquis Warren, and Michael Madsen as cowboy Joe Gage; as well as Bruce Dern as Confederate General Sandy Smithers and Walt Goggins as Sheriff Chris Mannix. The movie, clocking in at a swift three hours and four minutes, is as much a Whodunit as it is a Western. The majority of the film takes place in a single room cabin, Minnie’s, with Ruth being suspicious of everyone and Warren looking for an excuse to kill Confederate General Smithers. Blood and the N-Word abound.

What I love about Tarantino is that he loves film. Every film he makes goes on his own favorite film list, and I admire that. I’m not sure if it’s our similar age or the love for 70’s drive-in movies, but I really connect with his films. He doesn’t let history rule his stories, if he wants to kill Hitler he will, if he wants to blow up a slave plantation, he will, and I can’t get enough. Here, he creates an Agatha Christie murder mystery western placed in snowed in cabin filled with killers. Yes, it’s violent and yes, he does find away of insulting just about everyone, but the script is so beautifully written you don’t care.

Tarantino is an exploitation director; his movies are gourmet junk food, which explains his incessant use of racial slurs and violence. It’s actually much milder than what you would get from a back-in-the-day original. You mentioned the script, but the cinematography, staging, lighting and score are all epic. The Hateful Eight is a big movie, shot in a extremely wide format, with a grand, lush soundtrack by Ennio Morricone, known for scoring Italian Spaghetti Westerns. Every shaft of light, snow drift, particle of dust that floated across the screen seemed to be expertly placed by Tarantino. The Hateful Eight has replaced Kill Bill as my favorite Tarantino movie.

I totally agree on how amazing the folks are behind the camera. He always challenges his cast and crew and they always give him their best. It was so nice listening to that wonderful overture before the film. It was like foreplay, all I needed was a cup of coffee and some of Minnie’s beef stew. Whether this becomes my favorite Tarantino film or not, it will always be remembered as the best Christmas present I got this year.

Swanner: 4 stars

Judd: 5 stars

The Big Short


Swanner: Most people over 35 can probably tell you how much money they lost when the housing bubble burst in the mid 2000’s. It might have been a home, their retirement or even their job, but they remember. The Big Short takes a comical look at what was going on during that time period, when a group of men bet against the home loans in this country and made a lot of money doing it. God Bless America.

This is a great movie. It can make you laugh at what was one of the worst times in most people’s lives. Based on Michael Lewis’s novel, director Adam McKay (Anchorman) along with co-writer Charles Randolph (Life of David Gale) construct a funny movie telling us what happened, who knew, and who made money from it. The cast is terrific with Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling and just about every solid actor working today. Special kudos to Christian Bale, and to Steve Carell, who I have know forgiven for Foxcatcher. He was brilliant.

I’m not sure what to think when the guy at the helm is the same guy who directed Talladega Nights. Although Mckay made this fantastic film I will be keeping my eye on him. McKay has a lot of fun introducing famous people in cutaways to explain the language of Wall Street and keeping us in a sensory spell, playing music and flashing pop cultural gems from the time period. He even has Ryan Gosling narrating the film, because who couldn’t trust that face? One of the Top 5 films of the year and one not to be missed.

Swanner 4 stars

Daddy’s Home


Swanner: Daddy’s Home stars as Brad, Will Farrell, the new Daddy and Dusty, Mark Wahlberg, the old daddy. For over 90 minutes these two men will do whatever they can to be the best daddy. This is your standard family comedy. It’s got everything. Adorable children that say and draw terrible things, a nosey boss, shirtless Wahlberg and pissing contests around every corner.

Judd: Daddy’s Home is a natural follow up to 2010’s The Other Guys, where Farrell plays the uptight straight man to Wahlberg’s loosey-goosey renegade. It works for Farrell because he can play a nerdy schlemiel just as well as he can play an obnoxious brute; Wahlberg plays Wahlberg. I came away with very little opinion of Daddy’s Home because it was a bland little film scientifically created to appeal to everyone and then disappear without a trace, pleasant or otherwise.

Swanner: We must be sharing a mind because I thought it felt like a by-the-numbers film as well; making a family film for dummies. Saying that doesn’t mean that people won’t like it… It means that general audiences will laugh and cry in all the right places. My problem is after years of reviewing, I can smell when there’s been no effort given. Director Sean Anders (Meet The Millers) has done better but will have to take all the blame since he also served as writer here as well.

Judd: The movie is a like a Muzak version of film; it’s a big budget screensaver. Whether you watch it in from beginning to end, in pieces, repeatedly or not at all, your life will in no way be affected for better or worse. Isn’t that sad? At least Adam Sandler and Uwe Boll movies inspire rage and the question of why these men exist. You turn off their movies feeling something afterward; meanwhile, Daddy’s Home is a two hour lobotomy.

Swanner: Lobotomy? No, but really big blunt and you’re there. You are right, this film will give most people an occasional laugh, but you’ll be thinking you should have seen something else. Maybe that’s this film’s downfall. There are too many great films and Daddy’s Home is just a film in the back of the pack. This is the film people will see because something better was sold out. Wait for video on this film and see something better instead.

Swanner: **

Judd: **



Swanner: Jennifer Lawrence stars as Joy Mangano, a woman who had a great invention and turned it into a powerful business dynasty. The film introduces us to Joy when she’s struggling to keep her head above water, living and supporting almost all of her eccentric family. While cleaning up a mess gets the idea for a mop… a great mop, and decides to build it and sell it. She finds nothing but doors closing in her face ‘til she finds the wonderful world of Home Shopping.

For those of you who know of Joy and her fame, it’s fun getting to know this side of her story. If you don’t know who she is, it’s a story of an underdog beating the odds. Either way, it’s a great story. Let me start by saying I’m not a fan of director David O. Russell (American Hustle), and even though he’s had a string of hits, none have been favorites. It’s probably that he also writes his own screenplays and I don’t like how at odds all his characters seem to be. I know a story needs a conflict but pull it back a bit David, find your story and tell it.

Of course, this is me bitching about the supporting cast, not the actors, and the way they were written. Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen and Isabella Rossellini are all very good in this, but written to the point that it started to make it hard for me to enjoy the film; however, the ending pulled it back for me, and gave me closure on the family. What sells the film is another great performance by Lawrence. She makes you love Joy and cheer on her success. For those who think you don’t know who Joy is, just look in your closet. If you have velvet hangers, then you have contributed to Joy’s success. What a great idea, huh? 

Swanner: 3 stars



Swanner: Last night, Brian and I checked out the new Tina Fey/Amy Poehler comedy Sisters. The storyline here is that Maura and Kate, both in their 40’s, are told by their parents to get their shit out of their childhood bedroom because they are selling the family home. Kate (Fey) can’t hold a job because of excess partying and Maura (Poehler) in a divorcee working as a nurse always trying to fix everything but herself. They are not happy about their childhood home being sold. 

Judd: Written by Paula Pell (SNL) and directed by Jason Moore (Pitch Perfect) Sisters is an excellent follow up to the last Fey/Poehler team up, Baby Mama. Since 2008, we’ve had a string of female comedies where Hollywood learned that women can actually lead R-rated comedies that appeal to both sexes. Also starring Maya Rudolph, Ike Barinholtz, Bobby Moynihan, James Brolin, Dianne Wiest, John Leguizamo, Rachel Dratch and John Cena, Sisters is a who’s who of middle-aged comedic actors who need a movie like this to prove that old people aka “Parent Age” can still be funny, wild and sell tickets.

Swanner: I was really happy to see how much more I liked this than Baby Mama. The difference here was that Tina Fey was playing the black sheep character. I was worried this wouldn’t work because I’ve grown to see Fey play that “I’ll fix it character” but she can play the bad girl. It worked, and I laughed a lot. I haven’t enjoyed a comedy like this is a while. I was also pleased to see Ike Barinholtz playing the love interest. He’s been everyones crazy best friend and here he was the straight man and he pulled it off.

Judd: I agree with everything you said, but the movie is not without issue. It’s near two hours long, and there are several scenes — mostly those involving Moynihan — that could have been trimmed, or cut entirely, to tidy the movie up a bit. Curse Judd Apatow and setting the precedent for bloated comedies! I don’t like Moynihan, and his brand of slapstick brought every scene to a grinding halt where he tried to be funny.

Swanner: Moynihan doesn’t bother me the way he does you. I was surprised to see Brolin and Wiest playing their parents since they also play parents on the CBS series Life In Pieces. Wiest especially shows that older actors still can slay on screen, but that’s pretty much the message of the film. Just because your’re not 20 anymore doesn’t mean you can’t be funny and bring an audience to the theatres. This is without question the funniest movie I saw in 2015 and look forward to seeing it again in the new year.

Judd: Agreed. After seeing this, I was thinking of other funny middle-aged parent movies, and they either fall into Adam Sandler type schlock, or movies where new parents in their late twenties are dealing with new responsibilities and family obligations. It’s refreshing to see actors in their 40s being funny, without falling back on being “lame”.

Swanner: 3 ½ stars

Judd: 3 stars

The Danish Girl


Swanner: Based on the novel by David Ebershoff, The Danish Girl tells the true story of Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayan) and his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikaner), both painters in 1920’s Copenhagen. Einar becomes a well known painter while Gerda is told she needs a new inspiration. While Einar is sleeping, Gerda starts to sketch him as a woman. Once Einar sees the sketches he can now see who he truly is and starts his search to find herself. The person he finds is Lili.

Einar/Lili is considered the first person to have sexual reassignment surgery, a pioneer in the transgender community. Director Tom Hooper guides us through Lili’s struggle with a loving hand. The film never drags or slows like a period piece can do. Like with Hooper’s The King Speech, he introduces us to people suffering from their hidden shame only to have them embrace and own what makes them different. Newcomer Lucinda Coxon has written such a beautiful script where every word means something, educating the audience and allowing us to follow Lili’s journey.

This is such a beautiful film in both how the story that’s told, as well as the how the film was made. The score by Alexandre Desplat is luscious and dreamlike, far from his Oscar winning score last year for The Grand Budapest Hotel. Danny Cohen’s cinematography is as gorgeous as Eve Stewart’s set design where everything looks like a coffee table book on that time period. This is an important film for the transgender community, because it shows their struggle does play to the masses, that their stories do matter. The Danish Girl could be their Brokeback Mountain.

Swanner: 4 stars

In the Heart of the Sea


Swanner: In the Heart of the Sea tells the story that inspired Melville to write Moby Dick. Based on a novel by Nathaniel Philbrick about the Essex sailing ship that whaled out of Nantucket in the early 1800’s, and the monster white whale that stalked them, director Ron Howard had an uphill battle from the start. Not only did he have to update a classic, he had to do so while attempting to appease a whale-friendly audience. Early in the film it was explained that whale fat was used to light cities in that century, but even after that, at the time of the first killing there is no celebration over their kill; just disgust from a barbaric other time. 

The story centers around two couples, Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) and a Young Melville (Ben Whishaw) telling the story of Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) and First Mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth). There is a forced conflict that has these two sailors having a pissing contest ‘til the whales show up, and then special effects and Hemsworth’s best over the top stage voice are king. The script by Charles Leavitt can be a bit silly at times, but when the big whale is kicking their asses, the film is at it’s best. 

The film, although well made, never takes control of the audience. The beginning makes you sick, and the rest of the film feels as familiar as the last Moby Dick movie. If you can get past the grossness, then the Charlton Heston performance from Hemsworth might just amuse you… In a good way. Like Chuck Heston, Hemsworth never makes you think he’s not completely dedicated to the work, no matter how silly it may get. It’s what makes his Thor work so well. One thing though, Heston realized was he was a sex symbol and fans expected that shirt to come off in every movie… and it did. Chris, learn from Chuck. 

Swanner: 2 stars