A Dog’s Purpose

Swanner: Let me start by saying I know there is some controversy about the film, A Dog’s Purpose, so I’m going to review the movie as is, and not jump into the drama. I’m a dog person. I have nothing against cats, but I’m too needy to wait for a cat to show me some love. When I saw the preview for the film, I was immediately in tears, and even though the preview does give too much away, I knew I had to see the film. I wasn’t disappointed. 

Bailey (voiced by Josh Gad) is a sweet puppy that is saved from a hot car by a boy, Ethan, and his mother. Bailey comes to live with Ethan where he learns to play and chase chickens, but mostly Bailey learns his purpose is to love and protect Ethan. After many years together Bailey passes away, but suddenly finds himself a puppy again. Bailey is reincarnated as Ellie, a German Shepard, who joins the police force K-9 unit. Even though Bailey, now Ellie, is a different dog, and a different sex even, he still remembers Ethan and knows Ethan is his purpose and continues his quest to find the boy he left behind.

Director Lasse Hallstrom (The Cider House Rules) not only knows how to tell a good story, but he knows how to make people pay to see a movie they know they are going to cry through. He has made some wonderful films and A Dog’s Purpose can stand up aside Hallstrom’s Chocolat, The 100 Foot Journey, and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Based on the novel by W. Bruce Cameron, Cameron and co-writers Cathryn Michon, Audrey Wells, Maya Forbes, and Wally Wolodarsky have written a lovely family film that, yes, will make you cry, but will also have you looking at your own dog a bit differently when you get home.

The cast is all wonderful, and that includes all the animals in the film. But, what makes this film work so well is the voiceover work of Josh Gad. His Olaf from Frozen stands as one of the great animated characters of all time, and that talent comes in handy here where he brings Bailey and his incarnate pups to life. I will warn you that if you are embarrassed about sobbing uncontrollably in public, you might just want to wait to see the film on home video in the future. I would suggest seeing the movie in the theatre because everyone is crying, and there is solace in sharing this lovely film with others like yourself. It’s like group therapy with a concession stand. 

Swanner: 4 stars


Swanner: Split is M. Night Shyamalan’s new thriller that follows three teenage girls who have been kidnapped by a man with multiple personalities. He has them locked away in some sort of underground basement where the girls try to make their escape. James McAvoy plays the man with the multiple personalities, and if this film had come out in December we’d be talking Oscar consideration. 

I do want to talk about why there is such a hatred for Shyamalan’s films. It all started with The Village. Before the film hit theaters, the studio (Disney) had advertised the movie as a horror film. Where we all know now, The Village is a thriller about a group of people who used fear to keep the control of the residents. So when audiences filled theaters to get scared they lashed out, never seeing the film for what it was… A solid thriller. All the fans of Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs couldn’t remember how good those films were and Shyamalan was that bad director who made the not scary The Village. 

After that, he made the silly Lady in the Water and The Happening. Both films are well made and I happen to like the later very much. My problem came with The Last Airbender and Almost Earth. Both films were on my worst picture list for the year, but that didn’t mean I gave up on the guy who did The Sixth Sense. Since then he’s done the very creepy The Visit and now Split. Directors sometimes make bad movies. Spielberg made 1941, Peter Jackson made Meet the Feebles, Ridley Scott did Exodus: Gods and Kings and Cameron made Piranha II: The Spawning. It happens, so get over it.

Split is a fast paced thriller with a great performance from McAvoy. Shyamalan serves as writer and director keeping us confused and leading us into dead ends, but giving us the payout at the end. Yes, there is a twist but that comes during the closing credits, so sit down and watch. I do want to mention Betty Buckley, who plays the therapist trying to find out what her patient is hiding from her. It’s always a pleasure to see her work. 

Swanner: 3 stars

xXx: Return of Xander Cage

Judd: The first xXx movie came out in 2002, starring Vin Diesel as a young(ish) X-TREME sports athlete, Xander Cage, tapped on the shoulder by the US government to be an X-TREME spy. BOOM-SHAKALAKA! Fifteen years later, Xander Cage is believed to be dead, but the xXx program is still operating, recruiting the X-TREME-iest, gnarliest, Mountain Dew guzzlin’-est, ‘boarders out there to become American operatives. That is until a device called “Pandora’s Box” is unleashed, threatening to crash the whole world’s satellite communications. Once again, the US Government reaches out to 50 year old Vin Diesel to parkour his way around the world, Ben-Gay in hand, and save us all one more time. xXx: Return of Xander Cage stars Vin Diesel, Donnie Ye, Deepika Padukone, Kris Wu, Ruby Rose, Rory McCann, Toni Collett and Samuel L Jackson; directed by DJ Caruso, written by F Scott Frazier.

If I were a thirteen year old boy, I would have loved this movie; it had everything I would have wanted. X-TREME action, an anti-hero in a fur coat, and titillating-yet-innocuous lesbianism. The movie is big, dumb and loud – just like its target audience. When Jane Marke (Collette), current head of the xXx program, reaches out to Xander for this new critical mission, he assembles his team of XTREME specialists – not featured in the first two movies – an Asian DJ; a lesbian sniper; a “European” driver, and a nerdy-but-hot-without-the-glasses IT specialist. Their mission to track down the bad guys that have Pandora’s Box, while telling the US Government that they’ll handle it their own way! It’s what the Fast and Furious movies have become without the rest of the big-star names. All Vin All the Time!

DJ Caruso’s big movies leading up to xXx, have been the Shia LeBeouf vehicles, Disturbia and Eagle Eye, along with I Am Number Four and The Disappointments Room. He has a Michael Bay-esque knack for staging big action sequences, but his SFX department blew their budget on a weightless gunfight at the end of the movie, leaving the first 40 minutes filled with terrible green-screen effects. Also, the wigs that Collette and Jackson wear are hideous; they had no money left to spend on quality spirit gum because I would swear I saw Collette’s hairpiece curling up from her forehead.

I went in expecting a big, dumb action movie and that’s exactly what I got. The plot is thin, the action is unbelievable, and there are no surprises. xXx: Return of Xander Cage isn’t a movie that I would sit down and watch, but I wouldn’t tell anyone not to see it. If you’re looking for 100 minutes of mindless entertainment, this fits the bill. The movie’s saving grace is that it doesn’t take itself seriously. We already know Jackson will do anything for fun and a paycheck, and the rest of the cast is right along with him.

Judd: 2 stars

Patriots Day


Swanner: I remember watching TV and having the news break in about the Boston bombing. Everyone was focused on what had happened and, once again, the world had changed. It was in the later days that we’d only hear bits and pieces about what was happening. It was in less than four days that the bombers were either dead or under arrest, but the one thing obvious to me was that the city of Boston was not going to let this event make them change the way they lived their lives. They were Boston Strong and for those few days we were all from Boston.

Patriots Day follows Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg), a Boston police officer who was at the finish line the day of the marathon, and remained involved in the investigation until the end. The FBI and Boston Police work together in a citywide manhunt trying to find the two men who orchestrated this act of terror. The film also stars John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, JK Simmons and Michelle Monaghan.

Director Peter Berg and writers Matt Cook, Joshua Zetumer and Berg have crafted a film that not only tells us the history of the event, but lets us know how it felt — the tension of the city, the fear of the residents, and the overwhelming dedication of the Boston Police. The film is also scary. I knew the details of the event and I was still on the edge of my seat. This is by far Berg’s best film. It’s highly emotional, and I dare you not to get pulled into what these people and the city of Boston went through.

Writing this, I still think about scenes and moments in the film that left me holding my breath and wiping away tears. The only problem I had with the film is that it follows the two terrorists along with the people trying to find them; building them up with dialogue fabricated to make us hate them more than we already do. Those scenes seemed out of place because this film is about how a city came together in tragedy, and not about the men who tried to blow it up.

Swanner: 3 ½ stars