Alice Through the Looking Glass


Swanner: After Alice in Wonderland made over one billion dollars it was just a matter of time until Alice: Through the Looking Glass would be made. The story here is after Alice (Mia Wasikowski) returns from sailing around the world, she finds herself back in Neverland where she finds the Hatter (Johnny Deep) depressed and at death’s door. The Hatter thinks his long deceased family is actually alive, so Alice must travel to the past to find out what happened to his family.

Judd: While the first movie at least nodded toward Carroll’s original works, this sequel can’t even be described as “loosely based”; only the characters names — and not even that — are lifted from the original Through the Looking Glass. I enjoyed the first movie quite a bit. I especially liked Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen. This time around her presence is relegated to the last part of the movie, and we have to suffer through Alice’s slog through time as she finds out how important family is.

Swanner: I will admit this film is no where near the original. It focuses on Alice leaving all the colorful characters behind as she goes on her quest. One new character is Time (Sacha Baron  Cohen) a bumbling villain that tries to keep Alice from messing with the past. Where is all the fun we had the first time? I enjoyed this movie, but the wonder of Wonderland is missing as much as the Hatters family.

Judd: You’re absolutely right, the movie wasn’t as fun or as frustrating as it should have been in a fairytale land where everything is nonsense. Alice is complacent, no longer a stranger to Wonderland, and the movie feels that same way. We saw it all in the first movie, why go through it again? They didn’t even bother to explain why Hatter was so much different than his family. Through the Looking Bleh would have been a more appropriate title.

Swanner: Director James Bobin (The Muppets) and screenwriter Linda Woolverton (The Lion King) missed the mark with the lack of whimsey. Woolverton was the original screenwriter so this lack of everything must land on her shoulders. I should feel like a child watching this, but instead I’m an adult, like Alice, with eyes that know responsibility and life’s problems. Whom no longer believes in faeries, and whom would never have followed the white rabbit down the rabbit hole.

Swanner: 2 ½ stars
Judd: 2 stars

The Nice Guys


Judd: Shane Black has an interesting resume. In his 30 year career, he only has 14 produced writing credits with titles as diverse as Lethal Weapon(s) 1,2,3 & 4; The Monster Squad; Last Action Hero; Iron Man 3; and my personal favorite Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. His directorial debut was Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which was then followed up with Iron Man 3. Talk about making huge leaps. Needless to say, when I saw that Shane Black wrote and directed The Nice Guys, I was was very excited.

Swanner: On the other hand, I may have liked Black’s past projects but had no idea who he was.  I was looking forward to the film because the preview looked like fun and I was not disappointed. In 1977, two bumbling P.I.’s Jackson Healy and Holland March (Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling) get involved in a missing person case. One looking for a girl while the other was protecting her. Once they realized there are more dangerous people involved, the two men must work together.

Judd: While Gosling and Crowe make an excellent team, I don’t think they would have gelled as well without this stellar, dialogue heavy script. The writing is very sharp and rapid fire while playing the two off each other, using their looks and physicality to it’s fullest potential. March is shabby chic and Healy is just shabby; both men are world-weary, with Healy bloodying as many noses as he can before someone can come along to bloody his, and March crawling into a bottle at every given opportunity. It’s March’s daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice), that provides the men with motivation to stay on the case. I really liked the Holly character; usually children are a liability, someone to “save”. While Holly gets herself into trouble, she can hold her own and she’s part of the team, much to the dismay of her father and Healy.

Swanner: Rice holds her own against the two veterans. The three goons also looking for the missing girl are very affective. Matt Bomer, Keith David and Beau Knapp take on a “comic book villain feel” but the writing prevents it from being silly or over the top. I also like that Gosing is the raging alcoholic, not Crowe, and that the two men (I hate to say this but…) complete each other, making a really good team.

Swanner: 3 ½ stars
Judd: 4 stars

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising


Swanner: I wonder what the thought process is for deciding on whether to make a sequel or not. Is it strictly moved by box-office or does having a valid storyline even come in to play? When Neighbors opened theaters in 2014 and became a huge hit, were the producers actually contemplating if they had enough story to make a Neighbors 2? I mention this because that’s what’s wrong with this sequel. Don’t get me wrong, it’s funny, but the film becomes a carbon copy of the original nearly scene for scene. All they’ve done is change it from a fraternity to a sorority.

Judd: Since when in Hollywood does story ever determine a film’s potential for production? When Shelby learns (Chloe Grace Moretz) learns that sorority houses can’t throw parties with alcohol (yes, it’s true) she decides to open her own sorority, independent of the system. She and her friends lease the home next to our friends Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne). Teddy (Zac Efron) returns because he’s got nothing going on his life, and he’s really good at running a frat. From their we’re given a movie steeped in ersatz feminism and little else.

Swanner: Original director Nicholas Stoller, along with original writers Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien have repeated their roles here adding Rogen and his partner Evan Goldberg as writers. You’d think that five writers could have at least changed up the story more than making it a girl power film. Then justifying it with Rogan’s character having a second daughter and wanting to be a good dad. I just got a bit nauseas typing that out. Once again, it is funny but come on guys!

Judd: It wasn’t even that funny. Like the first film, it pairs the youngsters against the “old people”, but unlike the first first, where the humor came from the Radners being not quite ready to settle down and sinking to the fraternity’s level, this movie relies solely on the idea of the girls torturing their neighbors. Sure, the Radners get involved in some petty shenanigans, but watching them freak out over being bad parents while being pelted with used tampons isn’t quite as funny as the writers must has thought it was.

Swanner: The original film made $270 million dollars. For that I’d make as many sequels as the studio would fund. I did see a commercial for a zombie neighbors with Zac and Seth fighting the undead. I thought it was a clever promotion, but now I’m thinking… I want in. I’ve got some money saved up. I want my share of this bank. How about a crossover with Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. Neighbors of 21 Jump Street? Zac can move to Elm street and we can reboot Freddie Kruger. I got a million of them!!!

Judd: It’s only a matter of time before the original cast leaves, and they bring in Eugene Levy to make direct-to-video sequels, and hopefully they leave the politics behind. Neighbors 2 could have been funnier if the writers weren’t so hell-bent on delivering a message. And maybe that message wouldn’t have rung so hollow had there actually been a female on the writing team.

Swanner: 2 ½ stars
Judd: 1 ½ stars

Angry Birds


Swanner: The video game Angry Birds debuted in December 2009 and 7 short years later the movie is released just in time to be irrelevant. Bird Island is visited by residents of Pig Island but one bird, Red (Jason Sudeikis), is suspect of the pigs’ sudden visit. After the pigs take the birds most valuable treasures, the island because unhappy with the pigs, or dare I say…

Judd: Please don’t.

Swanner: They become ANGRY Birds! (music flares)

Judd: Ugh. With a vocal cast of some very funny actors including Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad, Kate McKinnon, Tituss Burgess, Bill Hader, Ike Barinholtz, Keegan-Michael Key, Maya Rudolph, Tony Hale, Hannibal Buress, also the not so funny Sean Penn and Danny McBride, I was expecting… Actually, I wasn’t expecting much. Video game movies don’t work, and even with as clean a slate as the plotless game Angry Birds provided, writter Jon Vitti couldn’t come up with a compelling story to keep me interested.

Swanner: That’s exactly the problem. The first half hour was funny with the introduction of the main characters as they all meet in an anger management class. They were really entertaining for both the kids in the audience and most of the adults. It wasn’t until the pigs showed up and the plot kicked in that i got incredibly bored… sleepy. It took recreating the actual game in the last 15 minutes to regain my attention.

Judd: I wasn’t even all that entertained by the intros. I didn’t care for any of the characters, and you would think I would identify with misanthropic Red, but no. There was little to no character development, and there was barely any plot. They tried working in a fallen hero story with Giant Eagle, or whatever the hell his name was (that’s a joke for all you Ohioans), but it was all a big steaming pile of “Who cares?”

Swanner: The biggest problem, outside of making a video game movie after it peaks, is the fact that neither director (Clay Kaytis Fergal Reilly) have ever directed before and that the screenwriter (Jon Vitti) has only written for animated TV. Granted, their resumes look great but it’s obvious that their lack of theatrical experience is why this failed so completely. It’s pretty and bright but vacant of any real substance.

Swanner: 1 star
Judd: 1 star

Money Monster


Swanner: Money Monster is a program on a financial channel starring Lee Gates (George Clooney), an obnoxious “bells and whistles” douchebag who makes a circus out of the stock market. Last week a stock he called “safer than a savings account” lost $800 Million; enter Kyle (Jack O’Connell), an investor who took Gates’ suggestion and lost everything, with a gun and a bomb vest… on live TV.

Is it as exciting as it sounds?  It is, thanks to Director Jodie Foster and screenwriters Jamie Linden (We Are Marshall), Alan Difiore & Jim Kour (Grimm). They create a tense, white knuckle, claustrophobic environment on a small TV studio with cameras everywhere and Director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) feeding Gates information through his earpiece. I was on the edge of my chair, loving every minute. The cast is great, with props going out to Lenny Venito, who plays the guy I sided with, the camera man who was in the right place at the wrong time. He makes what could have been a throw away role into something memorable.

I don’t want to hear how this sounds like Dog Day Afternoon meets The Big Short. They make this hostage film seem fresh and new. Yes, it’s a hostage film, but the it’s never overly scary( except when Kyle first arrives the scene) because there is a lot of humor in the film.  The editing is amazing in the way it never lets your eyes get bored with it’s quick edits and terrific cinematography. For those who wished for a better ending for the previously mentioned The Big Shot… you get it here and it’s a crowd pleaser.

Swanner: 4 stars