Swanner: In Coco,  a boy who wants to become a musician must travel to the land of the dead in search of his musical idol. Once there, he meets many of his family members and they teach him the value of family, and help him solve why the family has a ban on all music. Directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina create a beautiful world, taking us inside the Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos), a celebration where your dead relatives can come back to see you each year.

Judd: Because the movie is about a Mexican boy who wants to become a musician, the music featured in the movie is primarily Mariachi and Boleros music, which I enjoyed quiet a bit. The big name in the movie, for Caucasian Americans at least, are Gael Garcia Bernal and Benjamin Bragg. While watching the film, I could not recognize the voice actors, which was a refreshing change from the obvious “Star Casting” that normally takes place in animated films. I think it helps focus on the characters.

Swanner: That’s a very good point. All the characters are so original because I’m not hearing some star’s inflection create an animated version of themselves. It’s why I always like the old days of voice actors.

I liked the songs as well. They weren’t trying for radio hits, but rather something appropriate. I still don’t know how only Pixar and Disney can make the animation look so sharp and brilliant. This film was definitely a fest for the eyes.

Judd: So while we agree on the music and the look of the film, I have to say that I had a hard time watching the movie. Miguel, the little boy, wants to become a musician, and his family is totally against it, going as far as to destroy his guitar.  His great-great-grandmother only agrees to let Miguel return to the land of the living if he promises to stop playing music. To me, the family was as much a villain as the actual villain, and it made it extremely hard for me to empathize with any of them. The movie only manages to reinforce my belief that family is the F word.

Swanner: The movie is not without its lessons. Everyone grows in the film, from the very young to the very old. Remember, people can change if you show them what matters. Like not using the phrase “Family is the F word” in a review about a children’s movie. I loved this movie. From the mean old grandmother’s to the silly merchandisable pets. This the best Pixar for me since Toy Story 3. It completely took me by surprise and I can’t wait to see it again.

Judd: This isn’t one of Pixar’s best, but it’s not one of the worst either. The story and visuals are good, even if the story is a bit predictable and the “good guys” aren’t really that good. The music is great, and it’s nice to have some cultural diversity on the screen.

Swanner: 4 stars

Judd: 3 stars

Last Flag Flying


Swanner: When you first look at the trailer for Last Flag Flying, it looks like it’s going to be a cry fest. Yes, there are moments that are highly emotional, but this is really more of a road trip/buddy movie. Larry “Doc” Shepard (Steve Carell) shows up one December night in 2003 at the Bar of Sam Nealon (Bryan Cranston), a military friend he hasn’t seen in 30 years. Larry asks Sam if he would drive him somewhere and that somewhere ends up being the church of Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne), also an old military chum. At this point Larry informs the men that his son was killed in battle and asked if they would accompany him to pick up the body.

I know this still sounds really sad but as with all good road trip film, there is a lot of laughter and yes, everyone grows and is better at the end. I’m not a big fan of Richard Linklater (Boyhood), because he tends to be long-winded, and seeing he wrote the screenplay as well, worried me. I was hoping working with the writer of the novel (Darryl Ponicsan) would keep the film moving but as Linklater does, the film does tend to wander at times. Even with it’s 2:04 running time it moves better than most of his films. Call it baby steps.

All the actors are wonderful as always; Linklater does bring out great performances in his actors. Cranston takes full advantage of his character, and makes him as obnoxious and funny as he can be. Carell and Fishburne are both terrific, but Cranston shines. Just when I was feeling the film was going on forever: enter Cicely Tyson, who gives a short, but brilliant performance. For me, it was the best moment of the film. Overall the film is well made and tells a lovely story of how strong the military family can be.

Swanner: 3 stars

Justice League


Swanner: I haven’t been a fan of the DC comic films, but Wonder Women turned me around; so I did go in looking forward to seeing Justice League. The story-line here is: as the world mourns the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), a new villain arises named Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds). Just to clarify, this is not the 60’s band that brought us “Born to be Wild”, he is a super-villain that wields a large ax. He is trying to find three mother boxes that, once joined together, will destroy the earth. Think Genesis Device from The Wrath of Khan.

In this film we still get Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), who are searching for other heroes that can help to defeat Steppenwolf. They bring in The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Aquaman (Jason Momoa) to join this…let call it a League. And finally, they bring in Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to round out their team. I’m not a superhero movie kind of guy. I go for the enjoyment, so if i’m not outraged by something that’s missing from the comics, it’s just because I don’t give a shit. I just care if I was entertained or not. I thought the film was very enjoyable

Director Zack Snyder, one of my least favorite directors, actually kept my attention for two hours, which is a huge accomplishment for him. I was reading an article yesterday that said there was a stand-in director but today all those articles have vanished, so I’ll pretend it was all Snyder. Good Job.  I liked the new characters and really liked the performances. Miller’s Flash really kept me laughing, and Momoa will have hearts fluttering. The script, from writers Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon, moved well and came in under 2 hours: another big accomplishment for these movies. This is too big of a film to first see on TV, so I would suggest seeing it on one of the over 4,000 screens it’s opening on. The bigger the better.

Swanner: 3 stars

Lady Bird


Judd: Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saorise Ronan) is your typical 16 year old girl. She lives in Sacramento, the Midwest of California as she calls it, and wants something more. Her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), works at a psych hospital, and her father (Tracy Letts) is a recently unemployed programmer. Her adopted brother graduated from UC Berkley, but works at a local grocery store. Lady Bird goes to a Catholic School because her when brother, Miguel,  attended Sac High one of his schoolmates was stabbed. Lady Bird was written and directed by Greta Gerwig who grew up in Sacramento, went to a Catholic high school, her mother was a nurse, and her father was a programmer. Obviously, the story is very close to Greta’s heart, and it shows.

Plot-wise, the movie is your typical coming-of-age teenage movie. Of course, this one has an indie bent, but all that means is the lighting isn’t very good and the scenes don’t feel workshopped until all sincerity has been wrung out of them. In fact, it’s the sincerity this movie carries that makes it such a wonderful film. Lady Bird’s yearning and selfishness is palpable, but she never comes across as a spoiled, intolerable brat. She’s just a teenager, as we all were, that wants more than her parents have, or can give her. Laurie Metcalf is amazing as Lady Bird’s tough-but-loving mother, and could have easily stolen the show if the script and McPherson’s performance weren’t equally as strong.

The scenes that are most poignant are between Lady Bird and Marion. It’s the push and pull between a teenage daughter and her mother that Metcalf and McPherson render on the screen, so flawlessly, if you’re a parent of a teenager you will instantly recognize the struggle, while still being able to empathize with Lady Bird’s determination for more. It’s the panoramic view that the movie provides that makes the an absolute gem. There is no ambiguity, no lack of feeling from any of the characters, no matter how minor. Each one feels like a real person, spilling their guts out on the screen.

The movie has some minor issues, it’s not perfect. Miguel’s live-in girlfriend is an unimportant character (while still being very genuine), and there is a minor plot involving a teacher that doesn’t come back to direct next year’s musical that could have hit the editing room floor without making much of a difference.

Judd: 4 stars

Daddy’s Home 2


Swanner: It’s interesting that last week I was reviewing a film about a group of women that were dealing with their mothers showing up for Christmas and this week I’m reviewing a film about men dealing with their fathers doing the same. The original film, Daddy’s Home, was about Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg dealing with sharing their children after a divorce. Ferrell being a softie and Wahlberg being the more macho parent. This time around they are dealing with John Lithgow playing Ferrell’s dad and Mel Gibson playing Wahlberg’s dad.

Right away I thought the casting was too predictable. Gibson playing a tough macho dad and Lithgow playing the overly affectionate dad. Been there done that. Wouldn’t it have actually been fun if the two actors played against type? Having Gibson play a touchy feely father and Lithgow being the firm, over bearing pop. It’s just a dream that will never happen in today’s Hollywood. The rest of the movie is just having the son trying to please their father. It’s all slap-sticky and not very original. Still, no one is going to see Daddy’s Home 2 expecting something special, I know i wasn’t.

The director and writers gave us a standard comedy where the characters have to learn a lesson and ultimately realize that they are all good dad’s, but they all have different styles of fathering. It’s basicly who can piss further. This film is going to suffer the comparison of the Bad Mom’s Christmas because of the similar story-lines and because the Bad Moms have something this film doesn’t have, a good script. The script here is lazy and the only thing that makes any of it work is the cast. They are all pros, and making weak scripts look good is their job. I’m not saying Daddy’s Home 2 isn’t funny, it is, it’s just nothing I’ll remember by New Years.

Swanner: 2 stars

Murder on the Orient Express


Swanner: A murder occurs on a luxury train; luckily the world’s greatest detective is on board to solve the mystery.  Traveling from Turkey, Detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) boards the famous Orient Express for a three day trip across Europe. On the first night Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp) asks Poirot to protect him from someone who has been sending him threatening letters. Poirot refuses and Ratchett ends up up dead in the morning. The train gets stopped by an avalanche giving Poirot time to solve this murder before the authorities learn of the killing.

In 1974, the original version came out with a great cast, script, production values, and a score I loved; so Director Kenneth Branagh had some big shoes to fill. Based on an Agatha Christie novel, screenwriter Michael Green (Blade Runner 2049) tries his best to appeal to a new audience unfamiliar with the story as well as keeping the interest of an audience that already knows who done it. It’s also hard to tell this story in such a claustrophobic setting. Green did well with the script.

The production looks great with costumes and sets being A+. Branagh’s performance is very good but I was a bit disappointed in his direction of the cast.  The film moves well but in the 74 version the characters on the train were just that, characters. Each unique and very memorable. A few of the actors here were very good, but I don’t think Branagh pushed them far enough. It was the one thing that disappointed me in the film. The rest of the cast includes Penelope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Willem Defoe. I think people who don’t know the story are going to have a good time with this murder mystery but those of us that remember the original may be a bit disappointed.

Swanner: 3 stars

Thor: Ragnarok


Judd: Marvel keeps churning out the movies, and when The Avengers aren’t teamed up to defend Earth and/or the galaxy, they’re off having their own adventures. Thor: Ragnarok is one of those solo films, and it deals with our hero fighting his evil sister Hela (Cate Blanchette) who is back to claim Asgard as her own. But first, Thor must escape a planet ruled by the flashy despot, Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), where he is imprisoned and kept as a gladiator. The person he must beat to have a chance at freedom? Hulk.

Thor is my least favorite character of the Marvel franchise. His character doesn’t lend itself to humor or snappy dialogue, but Marvel did take one step in the right direction this time around, by ditching Jane Foster and her grating sidekick Darcy. No longer relying on Kat Dennings for “comic relief”, the screenwriters Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost, could finally start playing with the ridiculousness that is the Thor character.

Director Taika Waititi keeps thing light and moving quickly, and the movie’s two hour and ten minute runtime flies by. This is partially contributed to Goldblum’s goofy Grandmaster, but mostly because of the amazing Cate Blanchette as Hela. She is sex and evil rolled into one stunning villainess and she stole the movie.

The art direction is gorgeous and colorful, as I expect of all Marvel movies. The soundtrack keeps things in the vibe of the poster art with sounds of early-80s prog rock, with the requisite riff of Led Zeppelin’s The Immigrant Song thundering in every time Thor starts to swing his hammer.

While Thor: Ragnarok isn’t going to change his ranking in my order of Marvel heroes, it wasn’t a bad way to spend two hours taking in the sights and sounds.

Judd: 3 stars