Maze Runner: The Death Cure



Swanner: In this finale to the Maze Runner saga, Thomas leads his group of escaped Gladers on their final and most dangerous mission yet: to save their friends. To do that they must break into the legendary Last City, a WCKD-controlled labyrinth that may turn out to be the deadliest maze of all. Director Wes Ball finishes the series he started five years ago, along with screenwriter T.S. Nowlin, to give closure to James Dashner’s Maze Runner franchise.

After a three year delay, where lead actor Dylan O’Brien was hurt in a stunt accident, leaving this final film on hold, Director Ball and original cast came back to complete the film they had already started. Not a fan of the second film, I was hoping just to see it done with, but writer Nowlin, serving as screenwriter on all three films, kept the film running with a clear and complete story-line. All my questions were answered.

The film did feel a lot like the final Hunger Games film, where the heroes must break into the big city to resolve the conflict; in this case, of finding a cure to the disease destined to kill most of the world’s population. Coming in at 2:22,  I was surprised at how well the film moved. The film opens with a big action sequence and it really doesn’t slow down from there. Bringing the original cast back together also helped keep the continuity going by giving us  familiar faces we haven’t seen in years.  If you’re a fan of the franchise then yes, see the film in the theatres. It’s big and loud and gave me more than I was expecting.

Swanner: 3 stars

I, Tonya



Swanner: I, Tonya is a biopic that follows the life of Olympic ice skater Tonya Harding. We follow Tonya (Margot Robbie) from childhood up through the incident. As a child, we see her training with her mother, LaVona Golden (Allison Janney), who comes across as one of the worst stage mothers in history. As Tonya enters adulthood, she meets Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), who takes her life in a bad direction. Once the incident occurs we follow Tonya through the paparazzi and trails that came after.

Director Craig Gillespie and screenwriter Steven Rogers give us a very dark and damaged story but told as a black comedy. Tonya’s mother is a horrible person, but we can’t wait for the next time she verbally abuses Tonya; and when Jeff starts abusing Tonya physically, we look forward to how she’ll take revenge on her abuser. We shouldn’t be laughing, but Tonya’s white trash life is what great comedy is made of.  The film does have big dramatic moments, but for those of us that remember the incident and what followed, it’s hard to feel bad for anyone, except for maybe Nancy Kerrigan.

All the performances are 10’s from the judges, but watch for Robbie and Janney to go to the big show (The Oscars). You can also expect Rogers to get an Oscar nod for his dark and hilarious script. The timing of the release, with the Winter Olympics right around the corner, you should expect this film to go big. I did like the fact that the film isn’t trying to make Tonya the victim of this story. They show you that Tonya made a lot of bad choices in her life, and surrounded herself with terrible people. The best way to watch the film is to get some Eskimo Pies, Dove Bars if you can afford them, some cheap beer and enjoy.

Swanner: 3 1/2 stars

Insidious: The Last Key


Swanner: In this the fourth installment of the Insidious franchise. Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), a psychic, receives a call from a man who tells her that his house is haunted and he needs her help. The catch is that he’s living in the house she grew up in and so she already knows the evil that lives there. She gets her team together and heads home to face her own past. Adam Robitel directs from a screenplay by Leigh Whannell, who has written all four film in the series.

I actually liked the story of Elise facing her own demons, as it were. We see she came from an abusive home where she was not just haunted by ghosts but by a father, who had repressed his own psychic ability, who thinks he can beat these abilities out of her. It’s not a big storyline, but more of a personal story. There are still plenty of scares and the film moves well. Elise’s team/sidekicks (Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell) is where the film loses a bit of steam as they try to add humor to film that is more irritating than funny.

The film is set in 2010, this was the investigation she had right before the original film took place. Kind of a Star Wars: Rogue One for those who follow the Star Wars films. Being the fourth in the series there isn’t a lot of character development and we have gotten use to the way they tease us with scares. Even with that being said, I’ve enjoyed them all for being consistent and dependable. You can expect some good scares and a good story making this a good start to 2018.

Swanner: 2 1/2 stars

Paddington 2


Swanner: Paddington 2 starts up where Paddington has settled into living with the Browns. He’s become apart of everyone’s life in the neighborhood, and all’s right with the world. With Paddington’s Aunt Lucy’s birthday approaching, Paddington wants to get her just the right gift. At Mr. Gruber’s antique store he finds a pop-up book of London. Aunt Lucy always wanted to visit London, so Paddington decides to get a job to buy the book. Unfortunately the pop-up book is stolen, the law thinks Paddington is the thief, and sends him to Jail.

Judd: Ben Whishaw returns as Paddington, and the movie is once again unfairly released in January. It’s apparent from the cast that the studio knows this will do very well across the pond, but thinks us uncultured Americans are too boorish to enjoy this charming children’s movie. There are no fart jokes or bears pooping in the woods to entertain our Southern citizens – though Padding does wash windows with his butt, so they are trying for some cross-continental humor.

Swanner: I do have to compliment Whishaw for his charming performance. We’ve talked before that Colin Firth was to have voiced Paddington originally but left the project having Whishaw his replacement. After seeing this sequel I don’t think either film would have been as good if Whishaw wasn’t attached. As you mentioned there’s a terrific all-star cast and Paul King returning as director.

Judd: The movie’s preview give most of the plot away, with Paddington dealing with prison life – which sounds much darker than the actual plot. Brendan Gleason plays Knuckles, who takes Paddington into his protection after Paddington teaches Knuckles how to make marmalade. Meanwhile, The Browns are trying to prove that “under-employed” actor, Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), is the actual thief. As in the first, the movie is sweet and endearing because it never goes silly or syrupy. It’s a movie for young children that doesn’t treat them like idiots – something most films of the genre can’t manage.

Swanner: I walked out of the film completely charmed; quite a bit like I felt watching the first films. This is what a children’s film should be like, teaching the lessons of how far you get with kindness, or how sometimes it takes a team to succeed. I hope the American film makers look at this film and see how you really can make a films that can entertain audiences of all ages.

Judd: Agreed. The first movie was a wonderful surprise, and it’s sequel is an actual shock that it it was able to match the lovely warm fuzziness of the first. As long as Paddington stays in London, and doesn’t yearn to have his manners ruined by the Yanks, I’m looking forward to any future adventures of the young bear cub.

Swanner: 3 ½ Stars
Judd: 3 ½ stars

The Commuter


Swanner: Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) is having a really bad day. He just lost his job, his wife is a struggling realtor, his son is ready to head to an expensive college, and his family is buried in debt. On his train ride home he is approached by a woman named Joanne (Vera Farmiga) who offers him a proposal: She’ll pay him $100 thousand dollars to identify a passenger on his train. With nothing more than a few clues on who that passenger is, he accepts, till his realizes Joanne has deadly plans for that passenger.

The film feels like a fun Hitchcockian who done it, or rather, who is it. Director Jaume Collet-Serra keeps the tension on high with a fun script, great editing, and impossible cinematography. Granted, the train ride home does go on forever, but with all the white knuckling action, I didn’t care in the least. Even with all the twists and turns, the script never gets muddled down, and with a few hints dropped here and there, it’s fun trying to figure out what’s really going on; or if you just want to let it wash over you, you can.

The majority of the film takes place on the train, so the filmmakers had to make the claustrophobic environment work to their advantage. You also have Neeson being 6’4″ to deal with as well. None of these obstacles were a problem for Collet-Serra who had me on the edge of my seat from the time the offer is made till the terrific breathless ending. It’s January, and for a month that is normally populated with terrible movies, The Commuter comes as a welcome surprise, and should prove you can release good films in the dead of winter.

Swanner: 3 1/2 stars

Call Me by Your Name


Swanner: Call Me By Your Name takes place in Northern Italy in the summer of 1983. Elio (Timothee Chalamet) and his parents spend their summers on vacation where his father can close out his last semester and prepare for his next year. Every year his father hires a grad student to come in and assist him. This year he hires Oliver to spend the summer with them, and Elio finds himself smitten with the hunky stranger.

Judd: The titillating draw of the movie, for those who are unfamiliar, is that Elio is a 17 year old boy, and Oliver is a grad student (played by 31 year old Armie Hammer). The age difference is exacerbated by Hammer’s physical build, in comparison to Chamalet, and the fact that Armie Hammer can only play 31 year old Armie Hammer. At no time throughout the film did I see him as a student in his early 20s.

Swanner: Sure, that was a bit creepy but at least it was something happening. Up till the budding romance, all that happens is swimming, playing the piano and eating apricots… lots and lots of apricots. This doesn’t surprise me since the script comes from James Ivory. If you remember the Merchant/Ivory films of the 80’s and 90’s, you’ll remember they were long/boring, yet beautiful to see. This film is very much the same.

Judd: The movie clocks in at 132 minutes, and it isn’t until the 80 minute mark where Elio and Oliver finally share an explicitly sexual moment. The rest of the movie plays like documentary. Static shots of the Italian countryside. The boys swimming, riding their bike or visiting the piazza. The movie is a very beautiful and accurate portrayal of an Italian summer, with it’s hot, humid days filled with sunny nothingness, but twelve minutes of story tacked onto a two hour travelogue is enough to put anyone to sleep.

Swanner: I think most gay men are not going to find themselves or their experiences in these characters. The film feels like a coming of age novel that probably was much more complete in it’s character development and it’s ability to stir those sexual fires. The only thing I got from this film is that I’d love to spend the summer in Italy, humidity and all. Just don’t house me near the characters of the film because I’d go crazy listening to Elio play the piano every time he gets horny.

Swanner: 1 ½ stars
Judd: 1 star