Podcast: SJ 141: American Housewife; Modern Family; The Fosters; Soundbreaking; Collide; Before I Fall; The Great Wall; Get Out

White Background LogoSwanner and Judd talk about American Housewife; Modern Family; The Fosters; Soundbreaking; Collide; Before I Fall; The Great Wall; Get Out.

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Swanner: In Collide, an American gets involved with a drug smuggler as they use the Autobahn to run their product. That’s the exciting description of the film. It’s really about some stupid American kid who gets involved with drug runners in Europe and then gets out. (They never really are out) Then he meets a stupid American girl (in Germany) who he falls in love with, she gets sick and needs a kidney replacement, so he’s going back to the drug dealers, but this time to rob them — because that always works.

You can tell I’m not a fan of this silly film. When you see Anthony Hopkins and Ben Kingsley starring in a film, you think there must be something worth watching in the film. There isn’t. Hopkins underplays his role, while Kingsley takes it way over the top. Nicholas Hoult (X-Men) and Felicity Jones (Rough One) play the stupid Americans who have no on-screen chemistry,  and the film is better when they aren’t together.

Much of the film is laughable. All of the bad guys are bumbling and the good guys are worse. One sequence has the four leads in a bar surrounded by the police. The police open fire on the bar with no consideration for our “heroes”. Fear not bad guys, you can just slip out the back. I guess surrounded means something different in Europe.

Director Eran Creevy (Shifty) took on too much when he and co-writer F. Scott Frazier (xXx: Return of Xander Cage) wrote this dumb script. If they wanted to make a car chase film, they could have just remade Need for Speed, which was dumb, but at least action fans had something to entertain them. Collide should have come out in January when terrible movies are released, quickly taken away, then put out of our misery. With a January release, I would have known better.

Swanner: 1 star

Get Out

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Swanner: After 5 months together, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is heading away for a weekend with his girlfriend’s (Allison Williams) family. Her family lives in a secluded estate, with all the extras, including a black housekeeper and groundsman. Chris, being black himself, feels out of place as he navigates though this white suburban nightmare weekend. Chris starts to suspect something is wrong when every black person he meets seems off. First question I have is why would you go away for the weekend after being together only 5 months?

Judd: Shut up! That is my question! And the answer is YOU! YOU would go away on a weekend to meet the family after five months, you crazy, needy, victim-of-love. “I’m going to meet his family, I hope they’re not weirded out because I’m older than they are!” So on and so forth, squish, squish, squish. But otherwise, any NORMAL man would probably be a little reluctant to meet the family – especially when he’s the first black boyfriend the woman has had.

Swanner: That certainly wasn’t very informative. The film, directed and written by Jordan Peele, who is best known for his comedy, gives us some very scary and even creepy moments. He still keeps us laughing, mostly through conversations on the phone with Chris’s cousin Rod (Lilrel Howery). The rest of the cast includes Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones and Stephen Root. 

Judd: Oh, it was informative. I just exposed you for being a love junkie willing to do anything for someone that pays you the least little bit attention. “Wear this blindfold and ride in the your windowless van? How romantic!” Outside of the implausible setup, the movie clocks in at 1h 43m, with nothing much happening in the first hour. The pacing and the way the story slowly unfolds reminded me more “artistic” horror movies – Rosemary’s Baby, as an example. But unlike the artsier films, the plot wasn’t intricate or strong enough to support the pace.

Swanner: It comes to no surprise to me that you thought the film was too long. It went over your 86 minute mark, and we all know that means you could have cut 20 minutes out. The beginning was a bit slow but it was creepy enough to keep me entertained. The third act was as scary as it was funny. I think for a directorial debut, Peele made a really good movie.

Judd: I enjoyed the movie and I think it’s refreshing to see a new horror movie with a political message like the classics of the 70s and 80s — The Purge movies don’t count! The final act, when all is revealed, has a great twist and gets satisfyingly bloody. I wholeheartedly recommend the movie, and a great directorial debut from Peele. I hope to see more from him.

Swanner: 3 stars
Judd: 3 stars

Great Wall

Swanner: Based on the idea that the great wall of China was built to not only to keep out other nations but more so to keep out the monstrous creatures that return to feed on the Chinese people every 60 years. Matt Damon stars William Garin, a European mercenary looking for black powder who is captured by the Chinese but ends up helping them by offering western ways of killing the creatures while learning the ways of the east which include the use of the black powder. 

The film has a wonderful look to it with it’s beautiful landscapes and sets. It’s the largest english language movie to be filmed entirely in China. Direct Yimou Zhang (House of the Flying Daggers) is no stranger to these huge battle sequences and over the top special effects. You’d think though with three screenwriters (Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro, Troy Gilroy) that we’d have a better script but after researching the filmography of the writers their experience all stems around action and not so much content. 

With a huge budget, it all looks good. Costumes, sets and special effects are dazzling but the problem with the film for me was with the script. It never made me care about the characters and the continuous action sequences bore me more then excite. If you want action on top of action then this film should entertain you but if action with no heart isn’t your thing than The Great Wall shouldn’t be your ticket. 

Swanner: 1 1/2 stars

Fist Fight


Judd: Fist Fight is the story of two teachers, spineless, conniving pushover Campbell and short-tempered, violent Strickland (Charlie Day and Ice Cube) who work at an underperforming public high school somewhere in Georgia. It is the last day of the year, and Seniors are running amok while the teachers are fretting over massive layoffs. Strickland destroys a student’s desk with an axe and loses his job after Campbell snitches to save his own. Strickland then challenges Campbell to a fist fight after school. While the town erupts with violent glee, Campbell does everything he can to weasel out of the confrontation. Fist Fight is written by Van Robichaux and Evan Susser, two writers new on the scene, and directed by Richie Keen, who’s directed numerous sitcoms. In addition to Ice Cube and Day, the movie also stars Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Dean Norris, Christina Hendricks and Kumail Nanjiani.

The movie is rated R for language, and unfortunately, that’s about all it has going for it. The script is extremely dull, not to mention convoluted. The movie mostly focuses on Day running around scheming to frame Strickland, while trying to make it to his elementary-aged daughter’s talent show. Also, his wife is pregnant, which is supposed to make the fact that he might lose his job all the more dire. Between Campbell’s obvious lack of morals and Stickland’s violent temper, it’s hard to root for either one of these men, and it’s hard to believe that either one of them hasn’t lost their job already — but that hardly registers as an issue compared with the rest of the movie. The fact that it’s Senior Prank Day is used as a lazy gimmick for the students to behave badly, adding stress to an already frazzled faculty. The other teachers are minor characters for Campbell to confide his current plot, with most of them responding, “Take your ass whoopin’ like a man.” Both Jillian Bell’s and Tracy Morgan’s considerable comedic talents are wasted, and Christina Hendricks could have been played by any nameless actress.

With Ice Cube delivering his standard tough-guy performance and Charlie Day boiling over with shrill rage in the last act, the fault of this movie lies in hands of those behind the camera. The direction is very episodic with each of Campbell’s failed ploys further enraging Strickland or ending with Campbell falling prey to a prank. The script relies on numerous penis jokes, only a handful of which are worthy of a chuckle. Bell tries to bring the same manic intensity she’s displayed in Workaholics and 22 Jump Street, but her dialogue as a meth-addicted guidance counselor with a crush on her students goes nowhere – the description alone is funnier than the character.

Fist Fight was a huge disappointment as it plays like a PG-13 movie with vulgar language. The jokes and script are flat, even though the actors are trying to do their best with it. It’s hard to say how the movie could have been improved, outside of scrapping the whole thing and starting over with a clean sheet of paper. Fist Fight is definitely one of those movies that lives up (or down?) to the expectation of February dreck.

Judd: 1 star

The LEGO Batman Movie

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Swanner: It’s been three years since audiences were delighted with the original The LEGO Movie. This week The LEGO Batman Movie opens in over 4,000 nationwide to entertain the young and old… or will it? The film follows LEGO Batman who has taken on the task of saving Gotham over and over again until the villains in Gotham are all locked away. When things become overwhelming, Batman must look to help from other sources to save the day. 

Judd: This is a big project for director Chris McKay who is best known for his work with Robot Chicken, a fast-paced, R-Rated TV show featuring skits focused childhood pop-culture of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. This experience lends itself perfectly to the manic pacing of The LEGO Batman movie. The script is credited to five writers, Seth Grahame-Smith (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter; Pride and Prejudice and Zombies); Chris McKenna (Community); Erik Sommers (American Dad!; Drawn Together); Jared Stern (Dr. Ken; The Internship); John Whitttington (no previous credits). While I liked most of the movie, it felt as overstuffed as it’s writing crew with the movie losing itself with a “Batman learns to love” theme that crept into the second act and overtook the third.

Swanner: I thought the script was really well written, but the film seemed long. The action sequences are all very manic and usually followed by quiet moments, giving the film a rollercoaster effect. That’s fine in a shorter film, but clocking in at 1h 44m, it’s just exhausting. I think the Batman fans are going to like the films knowledge of the Batman lore and ever taking shots at previous incarnations of the bat man.

Judd: As our readers know, Adam West is my favorite Batman, so while the movie is playing up the fun and ridiculousness of a self-absorbed vigilante, I was having a good time. I loved the twist they put on the dynamic between the Joker and Batman, making it a plutonic-yet-romantic relationship. That was a brilliant move, but the rest of the movie – the Phantom Zone, the cross-canon villains, and Batman needs a family – felt like the writers were trying to stuff every conceived idea into the film regardless of the overall theme. A spoof would have been terrific; Batman fighting Voldemort, Godzilla, King Kong, etc, would have been fantastic as well; but the movie wanted to be all things, and while I won’t say it collapsed under it’s own weight, it came dangerously close.

Swanner: I always wonder why filmmakers overstuff a movie when they know its going to be a hit, and they’re going to have to come up with something to follow up in yet another sequel. They’ve used up just about bit source material. I know LEGO doesn’t have to make another Batman movie, but it would have been nice to have that option. The voice cast is star studded with Jenny Slate, Ralph Fiennes, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Rosario Dawson, Zach Galifianakis, Will Arnett, Ellie Kemper and Michael Cera.

Judd: You make an excellent point, and if this is a one and done situation for LEGO with the Batman franchise, then they’ve hit all the points, but since when does Hollywood allow that to happen? I enjoyed the The LEGO Batman Movie, but I wish I would have loved it.

Swanner: 3 stars
Judd: 3 stars