Podcast: SJ 117: Big Brother; So You Think You Can Dance; American Gothic; The Fosters; Difficult People; Drag Race; Once is Not Enough; Ambrosia; The Canyons; Showgirls 2; How to Be Single; Don’t Breathe

White Background LogoSwanner and Judd talk about So You Think You Can Dance; American Gothic; The Fosters; Difficult People; Drag Race; Once is Not Enough; Ambrosia; The Canyons; Showgirls 2; How to Be Single; Don’t Breathe.

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Don’t Breathe


Swanner: Don’t Breathe follows three 20-something burglars as they break into homes in the better parts of Detroit. Hoping to do their last big job. they put their sights on a blind man who lives in an abandoned neighborhood; the man had recently received a large settlement after his daughter was killed. Thinking a blind man is an easy target, the three proceed to rob the man not realizing he has secrets he’s hiding and will kill to keep.

Judd: The movie was written and directed by Fede Alverez who also wrote and directed the newest Evil Dead. Don’t Breathe stars Stephan Lang (Avatar, Into the Badlands) as the Blind Man, Jane Levy (Evil Dead), Daniel Zovatto (Fear the Walking Dead) and Dylan Minette (Goosebumps, Scandal). It should be noted that Dylan Minette is NOT Percy’s Jackson’s Logan Lerman, though they are practically identical.

Swanner: First appearance the film looks a lot like Wait Until Dark, a thriller from the sixties that has a blind woman being terrorized by men looking for her husband. What’s different here is the blind man can take care of himself to where he gets to terrorize the intruders. The direction is really good here, especially with the help of cinematographer Pedro Luque, who knows just how to position the camera for maximum gasp affect.

Judd: The script is also very good while containing very little dialogue. The overall theme is bad guy vs bad guy, and the script plays with that dynamic very well. It leads your empathy toward one character, only to violently remind you that no one in the cast is a good person. I really liked the way it plays with the audience.

Swanner: The film was really unexpectedly good. The performances are solid and the characters are quite dynamic for this genre. The strong script from Alverez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues makes everyone else’s job easier. As you said, there is very little dialogue, but I never had any problem knowing what thoughts were running through anyone’s mind. At 88 minutes, this R Rated thriller is easy to recommend to anyone looking for some edge of the seat thrills.

Judd: I agree, this movie was unexpectedly good; however, I saw Green Room earlier this year, which is a similar “No Way Out” movie, and it was better overall. That being said, Don’t Breathe and Green room would make a spectacular double-feature. I’ve already recommended a Green Room/You’re Next double-feature. Who’s up for a Don’t Breathe/Green Room/You’re Next triple-feature?!?!  I’ll bring the popcorn!

Swanner: 4 stars

Judd: 3 stars

Hell or High Water


Swanner: The film follows two brothers as they rob banks in west Texas. Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby Howard (Chris Pine) have been raised poor but Toby had a family while Tanner spent time in jail after his father’s mysterious death. Now after their mother’s death two months ago, the boys are robbing Texas banks to save the farm. Jeff Bridges plays Marcus Hamilton, a retiring Texas Ranger, along with his partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), who are tracking the boys across Texas.

Director David Mackenzie has us ride along with the boys, knowing they’re the bad guys. We learn the reasons for the brothers’ behavior and validate it, but once loose-cannon Tanner deviates from the plan, it turns the men from robbers to killers. Taylor Sheridan’s script is beautiful written, revealing characters for their secrets and fears, but mostly blurring the line between good and bad. Rich characters and amazing dialogue should get Sheridan the Oscar nomination he didn’t get last year for Sicario.

Let’s talk about the cast. The four main actors are all great. Don’t be surprised to see Gil Birmingham getting an Oscar nod but its all the supporting actors in the film that make this cast so complete. There isn’t a bad role in the film; Sheidan’s script gives actors with a single scene a chance to shine, and they all do. As serious as the film sounds, the relationships between the brothers and the Rangers keeps the film from being swallowed up into being just another chase film. This is a great film and should not be missed.

Swanner: 4 stars

Kubo and the Two Strings


Judd: Kubo and the Two Strings is a mythical story about a young boy who must find three pieces of magic armor that belonged to his late father to protect himself from his evil aunts and grandfather – spiritual beings who want Kubo to join them in the stars, as unseeing, uncaring overlords.  The movie opens with the infant child and his mother escaping some sort of evil on the high seas. Mother uses her shamisen, a three stringed guitar, to part the waves and make her escape. The movie then makes a quick jump to where Kubo is now a young boy who cares for his mother, who slips between lucidity and catatonia. To support his meager existence, Kubo performs magic origami shows using his shamisen to make the paper figures act out the stories he tells. One evening, Kubo stays in town after the sun has set, something his mother has warned him never to do, when his evil relatives attack and start his quest with the help of a monkey and an amnesiac samurai beetle.

Travis Knight makes his directorial debut, and the script is written by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler.  Butler is the only one with a silver-screen credit to his name having written and directed ParaNorman – a movie I found to be visually gorgeous, yet abysmally preachy. This time around Butler steps away from the proselytizing, and writes an amazing story I was shocked to discover  was completely original, and not based on a Japanese legend. The stop-motion animation is absolutely stunning to watch, and the the story is completely compelling; not once did I check the time during the screening. The movie put me in mind of old Disney, where the violence is appropriate for younger viewers but still extremely intense, which made the movie feel very “adult”. It never panders or plays down to the kids; instead it expects more from them as viewer. Kubo can be seen as an introduction to smart, well-crafted cinema. Something that Pixar used to do extremely well, but has been faltering since Toy Story 3 in 2010 – admittedly, I’ve yet to see Inside Out.

Along with the stunning visuals and story, the film also appears to be chock full of symbolism and subtle cues that add to the film’s depth. The only downfall to the movie is that there are some twists that take place in the beginning of the third act that are too easy to figure out. It’s nothing that will ruin the story, but at the same time most of the adults will be saying, “I knew it!” during the reveal. Children will be less likely to notice the visual spoilers and will find the twists more satisfying.

The vocal cast features Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Finnes. George Takei, Brenda Vaccaro, Rooney Mara, and Art Parkinson (Game of Thrones) as Kubo. All the voices were great, but none of them were particular standouts, which is perfect for an ensemble piece like this.

Kubo and the Two Strings is a fantastic way to end the summer. It has gorgeous visuals and a superbly written script that will inspire a new generation of young cinephiles. In a time when we are inundated with sequels, reboots and other unoriginal works, Kubo is proof that there are still wonderful, engaging, artful stories to be told.

Judd: 4 stars

Pete’s Dragon


Swanner: I’m sure there are lots of people who remember the 1977 version of Pete’s Dragon. It starred Helen Reddy and Mickey Rooney, and yes, there was a boy named Pete and he had a dragon, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. The storyline here follows a young boy who is lost in the forest after a car accident leaves his parents dead and Pete in the middle of nowhere. When the 5 year old is being threatened by wolves, a large green dragon comes to his rescue. Fast forward 6 years, where Pete and Elliot have been living deep in the forest but unaware of the lumber company moving in to their neighborhood.

I know people will discount this film as another sweet Disney movie with a good message, but its really much more than that. The character of Elliot is much more complex than just your average Dragon. Elliot has been seen by people who have hiked through the forest years before. He’s not a vengeful dragon; he’s loving a caring one, and it’s that caring that has kept Pete alive all these years. Elliot can make himself invisible, so most people would think they were seeing shadows, but, those stories are what legends are made of.

Robert Redford plays Meacham, a man who saw Elliot years ago, and knows both the amazement of sighting a dragon, and the ridicule of sharing such a fantastic experience. He’s just one of the amazing characters brought to the screen here. There is his daughter. Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), who finds Pete and brings him into her home. Her Husband Jack, (Wes Bentley), is the owner of Lumber Company along with his greedy brother Gavin (Karl Urban) who’s sees Elliot as his golden ticket. Finally, there are the two kids, Pete (Oakes Fegley) and Grace’s daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence) who becomes Pete’s new friend. Its a great cast.

I can best express the film by comparing it to E.T.. A young boy befriends an unusual creature and, while the adults freak out, the children learn to love it. The audience starts to love Elliot because we see this film through the eyes of children. Prejudice is learned, and where Gavin plan is to hunt, capture or kill, we see Pete and Elliot who have done nothing more than just survive as friends in the forest all these years.

Director David Lowery and his writing partner Toby Halbrooks (Ain’t Those Bodies Saints) create a film about friendship and love in a world that always wants more; a world that doesn’t like different or change. The script is so good the way it sneaks up on you. I never expected this story would touch me so. I walked into the film expecting a reboot of the ’77 film, but walked out changed. I know film can be very subjective, I’m not a fan of Casablanca even through most people love it. I can’t promise you’ll love this film like I did, but I can hope you do. It was wonderful.

Swanner: 4 stars

Sausage Party


Swanner: I’m sure Sausage Party is a film a lot of people are waiting for, I know I was one of them. Wait no more. Sausage Party is here, but “Just what is it?” should be your first question. We’ve all seen the hilarious trailer, but how can this be a full length film? Rest assured, there is enough for a feature film and more. The story line follows Frank, a sausage madly in love with a bun named Brenda. Every morning all the items in the grocery store sing a song of how one day they will purchased by the gods who will love and cherish them. Of course, the unsuspecting foods have no idea what happens once they leave the store. Frank discovers the truth and tries to save them all.

Judd: Written by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Ariel Shaffir and Kyle Hunter, Sausage Party does not depart from the established humor this team has served up in the past with This Is The End, Superbad, Pineapple Express, et al. This time they tried their hand at adult animation, and with the freedoms that animation allow, pushed the envelopes of good taste with mixed results.

Swanner: We know I’m more prudish then you so yes, the envelope was pushed and pushed hard. Still, they wanted to make an adult cartoon and I’m okay with it, and I didn’t go to the film expecting good taste. I mean, I watched Jonah Hill get raped by the devil so seeing food have sex wasn’t too bad. Not to mention the film is super funny. I’m sure they wrote it high, but I suspect they write all their scripts high.

Judd: I suspect you’re right, and that’s the downfall of all their movies. Stoned writers aren’t nearly as funny as they think they are. Sausage Party suffers – though not as severely – from the same extended riffing, “yes, and…” type improv that plague their other movies. It’s a shame because I think if they were a little more self-aware, or had a stronger producer, the team could produce extremely tight, razor sharp scripts. The talent is there, but they’re a little too enamored with themselves to really hunker down and develop it.

Swanner: I do want to make the point that I was looking forward to this film and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s all over the place but it all worked for me. There is a big vocal cast including Rogan, Michael Cera, James Franco, Kristen Wiig, Selma Hayek, Bill Hader, Jonah Hill, Nick Kroll, Danny McBride, Edward Norton, Craig Robinson and Paul Rudd. Two warnings here. This is not a film for young children…it may not be a film for a lot of people and DO NOT GOOGLE SAUSAGE PARTY images. Trust me on this one.

Swanner: 3 stars

Judd: 2 ½ stars

Florence Foster Jenkins


Swanner: Florence Foster Jenkins follows the titular character, an aristocrat and arts enthusiast; a woman who spent many years attempting to be an opera singer. The problem is that she can’t hold a note, but that doesn’t stop her husband (Hugh Grant) from making sure she doesn’t realize how awful she actually is. Her husband would schedule concerts of mostly people with poor hearing and bribe the Theatre Critics to keep her happy. That’s what the film is about. Is that enough for a whole? Sadly it’s not.

Judd: The movie is directed by Stephen Frears, known for Philomena, The Queen, and one of my favorites, The Grifters. The script is by Nicholas Martin, a British television writer. Florence suffers from both a weak script and mismanaged direction. It wants to be a silly farce at the expense of Ms. Jenkin’s complete lack of talent, but at the same time it wants to be an inspirational underdog story; at the end of the day, Florence Foster Jenkins fulfills her dream of performing at Carnegie Hall.

Swanner: On paper this should have been a home run. Streep playing a big character and Hugh Grant trying to keep her away from the truth. Once you add in Simon Helberg (Big Bang)… but no. I thought it was going to be a high energy slapstick comedy but this film doesn’t know what it wants to be. Remember Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight? The scene was set for a big comedy and all we got was a slow boring drawing room comedy. It’s like deja vu.

Judd: Florence Foster Jenkins was the first Mrs Elva Miller (or William Hung, for the philistine). Her popularity came from her lack of talent; what better way to exploit that with a broad comedy. There were hints of farce peppered throughout, but it’s almost as if Frears was afraid to commit to the laughs because he didn’t want to diminish the message. The result was an inconsistent mess. It’s a shame because the performances were good, as well at the gorgeous sets and costumes.

Swanner: You’re right, the cast and look of the film are good, and the failing is in the script and the Frears’ lack of commitment. It really disappoints me because these kind of films aren’t being made anymore because they aren’t big box office, even with Streep, so if they aren’t fantastic they go the way of Ricki and The Flash, which is in and out of the theatres, and before long straight to home video.

Swanner: 2 stars

Judd: 2 stars