Podcast: SJ 178: The Worst of 2017

White Background LogoSwanner and Judd talk about The Worst of 2017.

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Pitch Perfect 3

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Swanner: After being apart from each other after graduating college, with most of the girls down on their luck, the Bellas decide to join a USO tour and sing together one last time. Once they arrive in Spain, they find out that DJ Khaled is fronting the tour and looking to make one of the acts his new opener, with a chance at a recording contract. All the girls are back together in this third and final installment.

Judd: I was wondering how screenwriter Kay Cannon was going to figure out getting the girls back together. I figured it was going to be a fundraiser for the new Bellas, and they were going to save the town while they were at it. But no, Cannon went bigger than that and had the girls fighting an international criminal (John Lithgow) who also happens to be Fat Amy’s father. It was aca-over the top.

Swanner: I thought it was more about giving everyone a European vacation while filming the movie but the whole thing was filmed in Georgia. It’s the magic of Hollywood. So, the storyline is kind of aca-ful but it’s still funny and the musical number are really good as always. They did focus on Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson more than the rest of the Bellas but I was expecting that. Once again the funniest folks were Gail and John, Elisabeth Banks & John Michael Higgins, the a cappella critics who always offer a hilarious critic of the girls.

Judd: Awful script? Oh please! The only things missing were Ted McGinley and Fat Amy jumping a shark. Neither would have been out of place in this train wreck of a script. Did I enjoy the movie? Sort of. Would I ever see it again? No way. I think it could have been so much better if Cannon would have amped up the absurdity, and director, Trish Sie, would have given the audience a little wink and a nod to recognize that the whole concept was off the rails.

Swanner: They could have also done a Christmas movie where Fat Amy gets visited by three ghost, or finds that she really has had a wonderful life…outside of her gangster father of course. The Christmas soundtrack album would have sold millions. Any of those would have been better, so will this go to my digital library, no. I know I’ll have to watch it again so Sean can see what disappointment looks like but, after that, I’ll never watch it again.

Swanner: 2 stars
Judd: 2 stars

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Swanner: If you remember, at the end of the original Jumanji, the board game was last seen on a beach in the sand. Well, Alex picked it up and took it home. Disappointed it was a board game, Jumanji was put on the shelf. The one thing Jumanji did best was to conform to it’s surroundings. Realizing Alex liked video games, Jumanji morphed into a video game, but instead of the game coming to you, you go into the game. Before you go into the game you need to pick a character, and once you do, you become that character in the game…think Miss Scarlett or Professor Plum from Clue.

20 years later, 4 teenagers on detention find the video game and are taken to the land of Jumanji. In Jumanji, you have to complete the game before you can leave the game. I must say, the twist of updating the game really works for the film. Once the four teenagers get to Jumanji, they become their characters who are played by Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, and Karen Gillan. Director, Jake Kasdan, keeps the film moving with high speed as one would expect from a good video game. Writers Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, and Jeff Pinkner keep it funny by mostly keeping it real, knowing the way video games work and play.

I didn’t think they would be able to pull off such a good sequel. I honestly thought this was just going to be a reboot of the story. I loved that the actors got to play against type. Johnson playing a nerd, Jack Black playing a 17 year old beauty queen, and Kevin Hart playing a loud, short…well, most of them played against type. Nick Jonas and Bobby Cannavale round out the familiar faces on screen. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle will put a smile on your face and make a wonderful distraction through this holiday season.

Swanner: 3 1/2 stars

The Greatest Showman

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Swanner: Loosely based on the life of P.T. Barnum, The Greatest Showman is an original musical that celebrates the birth of show business, and tells of a visionary who rose from a homeless orphan to create a spectacle that became a worldwide sensation. I went in thinking I was going to get something similar to Moulin Rouge, which would have been fine, but what I got was something much more.

First time director Michael Gracey, along with writers Jenny Bicks, and Bill Condon bring this beautiful story to the big screen. Add to that amazing songs from Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who last year won the Tony (Dear Evan Hansen) and the Oscar (La La Land), make this true story into a full fledged musical extravaganza. The film score left me breathless with it’s powerful anthems, but still produced some lovely ballads about family and friendship.

The cast, lead by Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Zendaya, and Rebecca Ferguson are all fantastic with their strong voices and musical experience, but it’s the freaks that truly make this film sing. The actors playing the unwanted give this film the heart to make us want to see the egomaniac Barnum succeed because his success is theirs.  Production design, cinematography, choreography, and costumes are all flawless. This could very well be my favorite film of the year.

Swanner : 4 stars

Downsizing

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You never know what you’re going to get walking into an Alexander Payne movie. His movies are either brilliant or rubbish – or, at the very least, extremely divisive. The writer/director that brought us Sideways, The Descendants, and Nebraska, brings us his newest film Downsizing, starring Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, and Kristen Wiig. Damon plays Paul Safranek, an occupational therapist who decides to shrink himself down to five inches tall in order to save the planet and live a better life. “Smalls” consume less, allowing them to live in opulence at bargain basement prices, while producing much less waste.

The synopsis is the basic gist of the movie, and also what’s prominently told in the trailers, but the movie is hardly about that. I went into the movie expecting a smart comedy, it is Payne after all, about a couple that loses themselves and their identities after shrinking down and living in a tiny utopia. Wiig is in the movie for about 20 minutes, and the rest of the movie is spent with Damon rediscovering himself as a divorcee in a new town, with an enterprising European neighbor (Waltz), and a Vietnamese refugee (Chau) who was shrunk down against her will by the Vietnamese government. This is not to say I was disappointed with the movie I watched, but some of the audience walked out when they realized it wasn’t going to be a version of Tiny Bridesmaids.

Clocking in at 2 hours and 15 minutes, the movie has plenty of time to cover all the topics Payne felt necessary. The movie speaks of the pitfalls of consumerism, trying to create a new life in an unfamiliar town, exploitation of the poor and working class, and ultimately the downfall and redemption of civilization. While I was never bored, and thoroughly enjoyed the film, there were several times I asked myself, “Where the hell is this thing going?” The end of the film feels abrupt, not Cohen Bros abrupt, but the film finishes with nothing more to say. The point is made, and adding a “Hollywood ending” would have only made the whole journey feel less than genuine.

Judd: 3 ½ stars