Podcast: SJ 94: The Walking Dead; Venture Bros; American Idol; Survivor; Dowton Abbey; The Muppets; Modern Family; Triple 9; Gods of Egypt; Blondie’s New York; Electric Boogaloo; The Go-Go Boys

White Background LogoSwanner and Judd talk about The Walking Dead; Venture Bros; American Idol; Survivor; Dowton Abbey; The Muppets; Modern Family; Triple 9; Gods of Egypt; Blondie’s New York; Electric Boogaloo; The Go-Go Boys
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Gods of Egypt

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Swanner: Gods of Egypt follows our God hero, Horus, and his mortal sidekick as they try to stop a really bad God, Set, who wants to release chaos onto the world. They have basically created an Egypt that would have been run by the gods they worshipped. Niloaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones) plays Horus with Gerard Butler (300) playing Set, the really bad God with some major “daddy” issues. Brenton Thwaites (The Giver) plays the mortal sidekick who also has a dead girlfriend, a storyline I didn’t care about.

Now, who’s to blame? This is director Alex Proyas’s first film since the ridiculous “Knowing” and much of what didn’t work in “Knowing” doesn’t work here. Over acting to hide the fact the script was terrible, and relying on an over abundance of special effects to keep us from noticing we’re watching a concept that was never fully realized. Writers Burk Sharpless and Matt Sazama, who gave us such classics as Dracula Untold and The Last Witch Hunter, actually got paid to write this crap and, like their first films, no one will remember this a year from now.

The film does have a modern feel, much like the “Clash of the Titans” films. There is plenty of humor mixed with some big special effects, and of course some awful dialogue. If you’re a fan of the old Cecil B DeMille films then you are in luck, the film is dripping with production design and costumes and a really terrible script, much like all those DeMille classics of 60+ years ago. Finally, the monster released by Set looks to be the large Rancor from Jabba The Hut’s pit. Much like the Rancor, Gods of Egypt felt like being in his belly where you find a new definition of pain and suffering as you are slowly digested over a thousand years. Thankfully,  the film was only 2 hour and 7 minutes – But it was still just as torturous!

Swanner: 1 star

Triple 9

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Swanner: Triple 9 is about four bad cops working with the Russian Mafia who need to pull off one more job to be released from the hold the mob has on them. Of course, a rookie (Casey Afflect) is placed with one of the insiders (Anthony Mackie) who’s been put on the case to find and arrest said bad cops. That wouldn’t have been too bad a story if they had a good script to tell it. This film feels like it was directed by the editor because most of it just doesn’t make sense. 

I know there are times when the actor never sees the whole script; they shoot their scenes and hope for the best. I’m thinking that’s what happened here. I can’t imagine that these great actors would have signed off on this script. It is screenwriter Matt Cook’s feature film debut and I didn’t need to look it up to know that. Director John Hillcoat (The Road) has done good work before, so how this film turned into this big a mess is a mystery to me. 

Triple 9 is police code for officer down. The title doesn’t even come into play until the last fifteen minutes of the film. At that point, the film picks up, but not enough to save the first two acts. If anything were to save this film, it’s the cast. Besides previously mentioned Afflect and Mackie you have Chiwetel Ejiofor, Arron Paul, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet and Norman Reedus playing the thankless Mr. Brown role (see Reservoir Dogs). Woody Harrelson is a bit over the top, but he went for it and it mostly paid off for him. Kate Winslet on the other hand was just plain awful. I’d rather see her in another Divergent film… And no one really wants that. I do want to clarify that if the cast couldn’t save this film, nothing could. 

Swanner: 1 ½ stars

Race

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Swanner: For most people under 50, when you mention the name Jesse Owens they might be able to tell you he was some sort of athlete, but probably not much more that. The movie Race only tells a “portion” of Jesse’s life, and I’m okay with that. In this bio-picture, we find out about the man who was called the fastest man of earth; his triumphs in college, and how he got to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Stephan James stars as Owens.

I really liked the way the movie wove the Blacks surviving oppression in American with the Jews trying to survive the Nazis in Hitler’s Germany. There’s a lot of story here, and it’s not strictly about Jesse Owens. It’s about all the people who made sure he ran in those Olympics. Jason Sudeikis gets to step out of his funny man roles to play Larry Snyder, the college coach that pushed Owens to the Olympics. The movie also focuses on Leni Riefenstahl, the brilliant German cinematographer that highlighted Owens triumphs in her ground breaking documentary, played by Carice van Houten, and Carl “Luz” Lang, the German athlete who lost to Owens, played by David Kross. All three are standouts for bringing these characters to life, but it’s James, film and he owns it.

Stephen Hopkins (The Ghost in the Darkness), along with writers Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhorse tell a story of what made Jessie Owens famous, without drawing out whatever skeletons may be in his closet. People need to know why his considered a hero and what he did to educate a world during a very scary time. Personally, I think this is the Best Black Athlete bio-pic I’ve seen come out in recent years. 

Swanner: 3 stars

The Witch

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Swanner: In the 1630’s New England, a family is asked to leave the safety of the fort to live in the meadow near the forest. Leaving for religious differences, the family builds a home and raises their own food until the crops turn bad and the baby goes missing. Their oldest daughter thinks it’s a witch in the forest, but she is ridiculed until one terrible event after another happens until the family fears she’s the witch. 

Director/writer Robert Eggers calls this film a New England Folk Tale, about a time when magic was real and witches lived in the forest. This is Eggers first feature film as a director, having worked in costume and production design. Those two elements are without question the best part of the film. Having won best director at Sundance and Horror Jury Prize at Austin’s Fantastic Fest he has so much potential, but there are many thing here that could have been better. 

The use of the language of the 1630’s was clever, but today’s audiences will find it trying. The pace of the film is slow and the use of music as a emotion trigger only works when there is a pay off. This isn’t a thriller by any means and the horror aspect is barely there. I also found it impossible that a father and mother with a hand full of young children would have ever been able to build the house they lived in, but the director is a production designer first, so I’m sure it was accurate for the time period. The acting is fine, but the lack of any real scares made me sad. The best thing I can say about the film is there were no handheld cameras. If you want to see The Witch because because it’s a well made movie on a dime this move is for you. But if you’re looking for scares, this is not the film for you. 

Swanner: 2 stars

Risen

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Swanner: Risen follows the epic Biblical story of the Resurrection, as told through the eyes of a non-believer. Clavius, Joseph Fiennes, a powerful Roman Military Tribune, and his aide Lucius, Tom Felton, are tasked with solving the mystery of what happened to Jesus in the weeks following the crucifixion, in order to disprove the rumors of a risen Messiah and prevent an uprising in Jerusalem. I borrowed the Sony description of the film because I’d never be able to give it justice. 

The film plays like Close Encounters and when I make that comparison, I mean it in a good way. A non-believer follows a group of people claiming to have seen something spectacular, and then the main character looks like he’s in constant awe for the last 30 minutes of the movie. Too many of the current crop of Religious based films have been trying to play to the established base and not branch out. This film plays from the disbeliever’s point of view and because of that, the film has to convince him, and us, that the resurrection was real. It opens up the film as more of a Roman CSI to an american audience who loves a good mystery. 

Director Kevin Reynolds with fellow screenwriter, Paul Aiello, bring us into a real place with flesh and blood people telling a story in a way today’s audiences will relate. Religious folks should like the interpretation of this post-Resurrection story. People who don’t believe will enjoy a well made film about fictional happenings. Either way, it’s a solid film with a great cast.

Swanner: 2 ½ stars