Podcast: SJ 166: So You Think You Can Dance; The Oroville; Difficult People; Modern Family; Will & Grace; Brooklyn 99; South Park; Great News; Survivor; Whitney: Light Upon the Lake; American Made

White Background LogoSwanner and Judd talk about So You Think You Can Dance; The Oroville; Difficult People; Modern Family; Will & Grace; Brooklyn 99; South Park; Great News; Survivor; Whitney: Light Upon the Lake; American Made.

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American Made

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Swanner: Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) is a TWA pilot that is recruited by the CIA to photograph the growing number of communist lead armies in Central America. With the success of his reconnaissance, he is also asked to run guns for the CIA to the the perceived good guys. Unfortunately in order to deliver the guns, he has to run cocaine for some drug dealers – and it just keeps getting more and more ridiculous. Seal, trying to please everyone, finds himself with so much money he can’t launder it fast enough. Seal is our protagonist? All this ultimately leads to Oliver North, Ronald Reagan, and the Iran-Contra Affair.

Director Doug Liman, along with screenwriter Gary Spinelli, tell this amazing story, loosely based on Barry Seal’s life. I was surprised that the film is a comedy, but it’s really the best way to tell this unbelievable story. Anyone Gen X or older will remember the Iran-Contra hearings and how it almost brought down the Reagan White House. Filled with laughs, even at some of the most terrifying moments, Spinelli’s script keeps it light and Liman tells this story with the same kind of efficiency that he did with Edge of Tomorrow.

I can see why Cruise was cast as Seal. He makes a guy who should really come off as a drug smuggling, gun running, Contra training scumbag likable and charming. Cruise really takes the role and runs with it. He’s excellent. It’s hard to imagine that you find yourself routing for this guy but you do, and Cruise is why you do. I don’t know if the upcoming awards season will give Cruise the accolades he deserves for this role but I can tell you this: the film would be nothing without his performance.

Swanner: 3 stars

LEGO Ninjago

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Swanner: Lloyd is just your average teenager in Ninjago, with the exception that his father is Garmadon, the villain that tries to destroy Ninjago pretty much every day. Fortunately for Ninjago there are ninjas living in the city who are always up to save the city. Little does Garmadon know that Lloyd, his son, is the Green Ninja that leads the team against him. This is the second LEGO movie to open this year following the success of The LEGO Batman Movie. Is there room for two LEGO movie in the same year? Will both movies be ignored by the Oscars?

Judd:  Lego Ninjago features the voice talents of Jackie Chan, Dave Franco, Fred Armisen, Kumail Nanjiani; Michael Pena; Abbi Jacobson; Justin Theroux; Ali Wong and Zach Woods. It’s a strong comedic cast, but with three directors (Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan) and ten individuals given writing credits, the movie feels as overburdened as it’s writing crew. The humor and manic pace from the first LEGO movies is there, but this time it just feels a little sloppy.

Swanner: It’s story was very basic, especially with such a large group of writers. It was funny but the jokes created a laugh and then was completely forgotten. Maybe I’ve been writing with you too long, but past the daddy issues and finding the ultimate weapon, there wasn’t a lot of substance. I’m sure that for kids movie that might be a goal, keep it simple. But two days later, and I’m pulling up a blank.

Judd: Seeing that the first LEGO movie had Daddy Issues, Batman is based on Daddy Issues, having another LEGO movie about a kid with Daddy Issues has become to feel very stale; especially when our superhero movies – I know, not related – are also becoming laden with Daddy Issues. I also felt that the action on the screen was much too busy. During action sequences, I couldn’t keep up. Maybe that’s my old eyes, and kids are going to be able to follow it more – but those kids have parents (or maybe they don’t, Daddy Issues being as popular as they are) and those parents aren’t going to find LEGO Ninjago as entertaining as the first two.

Swanner: I also can’t remember any of the other ninja’s past Master Wu (Jackie Chan) and that’s because he was Garmadon’s brother. Lloyd’s friends… forgettable. The earlier movies were filled with characters we already knew (C-3PO, The Joker, Lincoln, Superman, Shaq) so they didn’t need to take time to develop them. I know I’m bitching a lot but they set the bar so high with the first two films they have to expect us to judge every new film by the earlier films.. This felt like eating at Sizzler’s, the meal was fine but two days later, I can’t remember what I ate.

Judd: Agreed. If LEGO really wants to get into the game, and compete with the likes of Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks, they have to keep on top of their story game – especially when the LEGO building block gimmick has worn off. Which it has. They have done well with video games; I hope LEGO Ninjago teaches them what not to do with their movies.

Swanner: 2 stars
Judd: 2 stars

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

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Swanner: After their headquarters is destroyed, the surviving Kingsman discover they have an ally in America. Both organizations must come together to save the world from a greedy drug cartel trying to kill millions across the world.  KIngsman: The Golden Circle is based on comic book series called the The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, which pays homage to all those over the top British spy films and TV series from the 60’s. Matthew Vaughn once again directs.

Judd: The surviving Kingsman are Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong), and are led to the United States by a bottle of Kentucky whiskey where they met Tequila (Channing Tatum), Champagne (Jeff Bridges), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), and Ginger Ale, played by the ever-awful Halle Berry. They are The Statesmen, the US equivalent of the Kingsman, but financially much better off because booze sells better than tailored suits. Julianne Moore plays Poppy, the bitter megalomaniac drug dealer. Her question, “If poison like sugar and alcohol are legal, why can’t my drugs be legal, too?”

Swanner: The fun of these films is that it’s writing like a comedy action film, and not an action film with comedy.  Everything is over the top. Poppy’s evil lair is an early 60’s mid-American street with a malt shop and movie theatre. The Statesmen’s belt buckles are flasks and the cowboy has a laser lasso. They take what the Bond films get away with, and take it just a bit further. It makes me want to break out my Avenger DVD’s and watch John Steed and Emma Peel kick some ass again.

Judd: I agree, the movie has some great gadgets and over the top spy sequences, that are definitely campy and played tongue-in-cheek, but it’s definitely not a satire. Matthew Vaughn and writer Jane Goldman want to have fun, but they don’t want to make fun of the reference material. It’s lightheartedness like this that makes movie like Guardians of the Galaxy and LEGO Batman so well received. We’ve said it before, and think that audiences are tired of brooding, angsty, “dark” action movies.

Swanner: It’s really nice to have a sequel that can stand up next to the original. I found the same satisfaction with the story and the performances. Even Haley Berry. I expected her to be awful and she didn’t disappoint. These are my kind of action films. Fun, wild action and a sense of humor. The  good looking cast is just a bonus. Looking forward to the further adventures of the Kingsman.

Judd: There were some scenes that I thought carried on too long, I could have done without the romance between Eggsy and Princess Tilde, and the movie could have used more of both of the lovely Channing Tatum and Edward Holcroft

Swanner: 3 ½ stars
Judd: 3 stars

American Assassin

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Swanner: Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) and his fiance are vacationing at a lovely seaside resort when there is a terrorist attack on the beach. Mitch’s fiance is killed and Rapp loses it. He becomes obsessed with seeking revenge on the people who attacked that beach. While trying to break into the terrorist cell, Rapp is caught by the Americans. Using his rage to their advantage,  he is trained to be an assassin by Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), a CIA Black Ops team leader. Once on the team, Hurley and his team are sent to the middle east to stop Iran from getting plutonium for a nuclear bomb.

The film is well directed by Michael Cuesta who keeps a quick pace going; so much so that when there are plot holes, we’ve already moved past them. I liked the script for the fact that I always knew what was happening all the time; except for the times they were heading for a twist.  Keaton actually pulls off this tough guy role by kicking Rapp’s ass early on in the film. O’Brien does a good job as the hell bent, revenge seeking assassin. I wouldn’t say they had a good chemistry, but they had something that pulled me into the story. Overall, the film has a very good cast with standouts Sanaa Lathan, Shiva Negar, and Taylor Kitsch.

Recently, all the action films coming out have been over the top and almost campy, which works for me most of the time. American Assasin is more of a by-the-book thriller. I forgot how a good action thriller can be. The film is rated R, mostly for the violence which gets extreme and very scary at times. If the film does well, I think we could see sequels to this film like we did with the Bourne films and I’m good with that.

Swanner: 3 stars