Swanner: Moana tells the story a young Pacific Island woman who travels from the safety of her island on a quest to correct a 1000 year old wrong doing. Dwayne Johnson lends his voice to Maui, a demi-god who Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) needs to help complete her quest. Ron Clements (The Little Mermaid), Don Hall (Big Hero 6),  John Musker (Aladdin) & Chris Williams (Big Hero 6) direct this latest Disney Princess offering.

Judd: The movie was originally imagined as a story about Maui, but when Clements and Musker took a fact-finding trip to the Pacific islands, they decided to make the movie about the people and their ways and less about Maui, which explains how the movie felt like two stories mashed together. The saving grace comes from original songs by Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancia and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Swanner: The music is spectacular. I love that it has beautiful lyrics and rhythms, but also embraces the people and their history. For those of you preparing for the Oscars, Best Song will come from Moana. I also really loved the colors. You had mentioned in your review of Finding Dory that the murky California coast took from the beauty we got from Nemo. Moana is gorgeous to look at if people aren’t booking a trip somewhere tropical I’ll be surprised.

Judd: Agreed, the Polynesian palette was beautiful, and even when things turned dark with the lava monster, the colors were still vivid and bright. Though to counter that,we saw the movie in 3D, and I don’t think it enhances anything except the profit margin. The voice actors were fine. The script took digs at traditional “princess movies,” which I appreciated, but at the end of the day, this was still a Princess movie.

Swanner: Believe me, it’s a Princess movie and they want it that way. If I have any complaints, it would be they talked too much and I had trouble remembering the names of the Gods and the bad guys. Still, I noticed a theatre full of quiet children throughout the movie. To me, that says success. This is a lovely addition to anyone’s Disney and a fresh new face to the Disney Princesses.

Judd: Princess movies are not my cup of tea, even if they are more empowering now than they were back in the halcyon days of Princess movies.I respect the fact that Disney is at least making an effort to broaden their ethnic diversity, but disregard skin tone, hair color, and eye shape, it’s still a privileged little girl, born unto royalty, rebelling against the patriarchal establishment. If only Disney could diversify their plot lines.

Swanner: 3 ½
Judd: 2 ½

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them


Swanner: If you’re like me, something went missing from your life when the final Harry Potter movie ended. Something that had become such a part of my life was over, and I longed for more; then J.K. Rowling started writing the story Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Five years later, the first of five films has arrived for all us muggles, or no-maj as the Americans say, to enjoy over and over again.

The story opens up as Ned Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is getting off a boat with only a suitcase, but in that suitcase are magical creatures. After a mix-up of suitcases Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) ends up with Eddie’s suitcase and accidentally releases a few creatures on New York City. New York already has it’s problems with something magical attacking people and property. Immediately, Eddie is a suspect, and with the help of agent Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) they try to clear his name and save the city.

Directed by David Yates (Harry Potter) and written by J.K.Rowling, how bad can it be? Taking place pre Harry in the 1920’s, we get to meet all new characters, creatures, and places, but with a sweet reminder of our early adventures with Harry, when someone mentions Hogwarts or Dumbledore.

As with all the Potter films, the technical aspect is great. Set design, costumes, cinematography and music take you into that world of wizards and witches. There is a big cast which includes Colin Farrell, Ron Perlman, Johnny Deep and Samantha Morton. For Harry Potter fans, this is your early Christmas present.

Swanner: 4 stars


Swanner:  Moonlight is a film is told in three acts. Act one tells the story of Chiron, a nine year old boy with secret. A secret that a child his age, living in the world he lives can’t be told. Bullied at school and at home, Chiron looks for acceptance and understanding from the neighborhood drug dealer and his girlfriend, who only see him as a lost soul. In the second act, Chiron has to make the decision to become his own man, or stay the punching bag he’s allowed himself to become. While act three shows us the man he’s become, ready to share his secret with a old friend.

Judd: Written and directed by Barry Jenkins, based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell McCraney, Moonlight is one of those rare instances where a studio took a gamble on unknown talent, and it pays off in one of the most sincere and heartfelt movies I’ve seen in a long time. It starts off a little shaky – literally – with handheld camerawork, and could have easily turned into an exploitive story of black youth in poverty. But instead of turning into Precious 2, the movie turns into a story with characters we can all identify with.

Swanner: Everyone in the cast was so good. The young actors were more than just reciting lines. You can tell that Jenkins took time with them, and all the cast, to pull out amazing performances. For me, the standout performance comes from Neomie Harris who plays Chiron’s mother. Her portrayal is so versatile, so heartbreaking, she will earn her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Judd: An interesting fact, Jenkins sequestered the actors playing Chiron and they didn’t meet until the film was completed. It makes sense, since Chiron lived three lives throughout the course of the film – also reflected in the monikers bestowed upon him during the three separate phases. I really appreciated the fact that the movie provided positive characters that would normally be presented as ignorant or violent. Dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) takes Chiron under his wing, without trying to get him hooked or “into the life” and doesn’t react negatively when Chiron asks him “What’s a faggot?” Too often we see characters like his that are reactionary or manipulative. It’s refreshing to see a character that does what he does to survive, but knows there’s a better way.

Swanner: It’s a very brave film. Chiron doesn’t know who he is because he has no role models. He has no role models because the black community doesn’t speak honestly about sexual identity. This film will give the Chiron’s of the world someone to know and understand. Hopefully this is powerful film can open minds and hearts to where Chiron’s everywhere can live and love openly.

Swanner: 4 stars

Judd: 4 stars