Podcast: SJ 160: So You Think You Can Dance; Big Brother; The Fosters; Blood Drive; Coke Zero; Aspergers Are Us; Maria Bamford: Old Baby; Atomic Blonde

White Background LogoSwanner and Judd talk about So You Think You Can Dance; Big Brother; The Fosters; Blood Drive; Coke Zero; Aspergers Are Us; Maria Bamford: Old Baby; Atomic Blonde.

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Atomic Blonde

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Swanner: An undercover MI6 agent, Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), is dispatched to Berlin in the closing days of the cold war to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and to recover a list of double agents that was taken from him. Once in Berlin, Lorraine is to meet David Percival (James McAvoy), the sketchy Berlin station chief whom she must work with to find the list of agents. Directed David Leitch, who co-directed John Wick (uncredited) brings the same high energy here, with plenty of fantastic stunt fight sequences with Theron kicking some serious ass.

Judd: David Leitch knows how to direct fight sequences; he is one of the best in the business at this time. John Wick, and now Atomic Blonde, are perfect examples of how these types of scenes should be filmed. The camera is kept far enough away, and more importantly, steady enough to see what is happening. The choreography is spot on. The movie is based on a graphic novel series called “The Coldest City.” In addition to the fantastic fight sequences, the majority of the movie is cast in neon hues of pink and blue, which makes it feel like scenes were lifted directly off the pages.

Swanner: You know the production designers and costumers had a great time. If the 80’s only looked so cool. The film did have a great look to it. Cinematography and editing were terrific as well. I was never lost in the high action scenes whether in a car, on foot, or flying down a staircase. I also have to mention how amazing the stunts are in the film. The very first stunt with the MI6 agent blew me away. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that stunt done without clever editing.

Judd:  I wish the plot had engaged me as much as the stunts. As with most movie adaptations, plot lines are pared and character-arcs are dropped. The movie has many characters that serve one purpose, the watch dealer and the underground coordinator for example, that seemed like they should have had more to do. The movie also ends with some twists that were superfluous, especially after what could have stood as a throughly satisfying ending.

Swanner: I do agree the plot wasn’t as engaging as I had hoped. Screenwriter Kurt Johnstad approached the script very much like John Wick. It was all about the damage Theron leaves behind on her tour of East and West Berlin. The rest of the cast is made up of John Goodman, Toby Johns, Eddie Marsan, James Faulkner, Roland Moller and Sofia Boutella. I really enjoyed the film. I think it’s interesting that in a summer of what was promising big box-office films, most of which have disappointed, it’s the little guys that have delivered.

Swanner: 3 ½ stars
Judd: 3 stars

Dunkirk

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Swanner: Dunkirk takes place in Dunkirk, France; where the Germans have pushed the British, the French, and their allies to the west coast. Like fish in a barrel, the British try to evacuate forces any way they can, including having civilian boaters cross the english channel to bring the boys home. Director/Writer Christopher Nolan has constructed a war drama, the likes of which just doesn’t seem to get made anymore. You have to go back to 1998’s Saving Private Ryan to find a film this ambitious.

In a world where war films are done in front of green screens, Nolan reenacts this world war two battle with the same realism we got in Private Ryan and Das Boot. He’s made it personal with flesh and blood characters put into terrifying situations. The scenes on the beach where soldiers stood single file, waiting for boats to carry them home are so tense as you wait for the German planes to run the beach and slaughter these young men. War films are tough when you have soldiers battling for their lives; but worse when they are gunned down just waiting for a ride home.

The filmmaking is extraordinary. The dynamic cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema is amazing; especially when showing the before mentioned beach as a gorgeous, yet haunting graveyard. Hans Zimmer’s score completely controls your emotions. The script doesn’t rely on a lot of dialogue but that doesn’t stop the actors from telling us their stories. The film doesn’t follow a linear storyline, so you need to pay attention. My only complaint would be that so many of the young actors looked similar, which made it harder to follow this non-linear story. Nolan should finally get that illusive nomination for Best Director at this years Oscars; with both Zimmer and Hoytema as front runners in their individual categories. The Oscar race has officially started.

Swanner: 4 stars

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

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Swanner: Valerian (Dane Dehaan) is a special operative who, with his partner Laureline, (Cara Delevingne) has been assigned to transfer a small creature to the city of Alpha. Once they reach their destination they begin to realize there are secrets that some powerful people want to remain secret, and are willing to risk all the lives in Alpha to do it.  Director/Writer Luc Besson creates a strange and beautiful world based on the graphic novels from creators Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres.

Going into the film, based on the preview, I knew I was in for a visual overdose. I mean that in a good way. I also knew based on Besson’s work, that I really had no idea what was going to happen. That’s one of the joys of Besson’s work. You never know if it’s going to be lighter like The 5th Element, suspenseful like Taken, or thought provoking like the underrated Lucy. The film does have a lighter side to it. It’s main characters feel very current, as if trying to appeal to a younger audience, by constantly bickering on whether the two should get marry when their world is in jeopardy. Rihanna, Clive Owen, Ethan Hawke, and Herbie Hancock make up the notable cast.

The story is actually quite good which talks about genocide, and what a bad guy will do to save his own ass. For a two hours and seventeen minutes film, it flew by. My biggest complaint was Delevingne’s performance. Half the time she was really good, and then other times she seemed very out of place. It might just be that Star Wars and Star Trek have jaded me, and anything that veers from the path seems wrong. Overall, the film is a fast paced summer popcorn movie fun and that it does very well.

Swanner: 2 ½ stars

Girls Trip

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Swanner: Ryan Pierce (Regina Hall) is a successful self help writer who is is the key speaker at the Essence Festival in New Orleans. This is the perfect time to get her three lifelong friends together after a five year self imposed break. Will this sisterhood be able to mend after all these years? Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Tiffany Haddish make up the rest of the “Girls” in this very funny Girls Trip.

Judd: Girls Trip was written by Kenya Barris (Black-ish), Karen McCullah, (The House Bunny), Tracy Oliver (Barbershop: The Next Cut), and Erica Rivinoja (The Last Man on Earth). Outside of Kenya’s writing for the acclaimed Black-ish, the rest of the writing crew should have tipped me off for what I was about to see. Girls Trip had funny moments, but did not take the genre anywhere new and clumsily threw in some tired empowerment tropes for good measure.

Swanner: After the mediocre Rough Night from earlier this summer I wasn’t looking to lift up the genre, I wanted a funny, over the top, R rated comedy. That’s exactly what I got. Director Malcolm D. Lee who has become a prominent rom com director took this funny script and let his cast run with it. The other nice thing about Lee’s productions are that he always delivers a very attractive cast. A few funny moments? I spent two hours laughing my ass off.

Judd: I, too, was looking for a female comedy that hit the mark Rough Night missed, but Girls Trip wasn’t it. The conflict is projected within the first five minutes of the movie, and the characters are never built up past their two dimensional outline. We’ve got The Successful One with a Secret, The Wild One, The Single Mother Who Hasn’t Had Sex in Years, and The One Who’s Holding a Grudge Against the Successful One. The villain is a Ratchet Ho and Cheating Husband. The jester is The White Woman Who Says Awkward “Black” Things. I understand there is a formula to these kinds of movies, but if you don’t do something to set it apart, which Girls Trip did not, then it’s just one more to throw on the pile.

Swanner: I totally disagree with you on this one. Some of the characters may be familiar, but from the guy who complains that he wants a cut-loose R rated raunchy girl comedy and when he gets it, he now wants more depth of character? Two of the women urinate in the middle of Bourbon Street and you want a growth of the genre? It sounds like you don’t know what you want. I got everything I was hoping for, and more. I don’t think anyone that wants to see Girls Trip is going to leave disappointed.

Judd: So what you’re saying is that audience can’t have both? They have to be content with either decent characters or a raunchy comedy? Apparently then, you missed the whole message of the movie. You don’t have to settle for less, and when you strive for more, that’s when you really succeed. I’m glad you got the movie you wanted, but some of us know that we deserve better.

Swanner: 3 stars
Judd: 2 stars