Pacific Rim: Up Rising


Swanner: Pacific Rim: Uprising takes place years after the Kaiju had been stopped and the opening deep in the Pacific had been closed. In preparation that one day they could return, Jaeger pilots are being trained and drone versions of Jaegers are being built. At the drone unveiling in Sydney, a rogue Jaeger appears and makes the world realize this war is far from over. The film focuses on the new jaeger pilot recruits who will risk their lives to save our world. Steven S. DeKnight makes his theatrical directorial debut.

Judd: The first movie was directed by Guillermo Del Toro, as as such was full of the gorgeous detail that he brings to all his movies. Direction this time around was provided by Steven DeKnight, but Del Toro is still working behind the scenes to make sure the movie looks as good as the first. The strengths of the first are still there, fantastic action sequences, wonderful set pieces, and cinematography that Michael Bay could take a lesson from. However, the movie hits the sophomore slump with the characters. It took me almost half the movie to warm up to our hero, Jake, played by John Boyega.

Swanner: I thought all the characters were your basic, by-the-book, angsty kids that ultimately save the world. Besides the terrific cinematography, Michael Bay can learn a lot of lessons from this these films like how to keep an audience interested in the story, and keeping a running time under two hours. I was a bit disappointed that it took as long as it did to get some monsters. Once the third act starts, we get full time monsters. That being said, the first two acts still held my interest enough that I was trying to figure the twists that were up coming. It was nice having Burn Gorman and Charlie Day back from the original film to add funny into the already campy film.

Judd: I agree the script was decent for this kind of movie, as were the performances and direction. This is DeKnight’s first time writing directing a major motion picture, though he did have experience with the Starz original Spartacus: Gods of the Arena and War of the Damned. The movie runs one hour and 50 minutes, but I don’t think it felt overly long, and it helps that there are probably edit-credits scenes that you and I skipped out on.

Swanner: I like that everyone associated with the film understands that these films are a reinvention of the Asian monster movies. It’s all about the fun of the story and that the good guy must win in the end. Collateral damage is never taken into consideration either. If you don’t know by now how to run away from a monster after all this time, it’s your own fault.  The film isn’t as good as the first film, but it’s still better than most, if not all, of the Transformer movies.

Swanner: 3 stars
Judd: 3 stars

Tomb Raider


Swanner: Whenever someone gets upset over a reboot of a film, I always tell them, if it sucks, no one will remember it a year from now. If it’s good then great, and we have another good movie to watch.  So, this week we have the reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise. I was never a fan of the original films, mostly because of Jolee’s snooty performance, so anything good here would be a win for me. Alicia Vikander steps in to Jolee’s shoes to play Lara Croft, who, in this origin story, is searching for her father who disappeared seven years earlier.

Tomb Raider is based on the 1996 video game that introduced Lara Croft. She was one of the first female characters that was in charge, and not just a damsel in distress. What made this film work for me was that, unlike the original, this film is telling a story. Lara is not like Indiana Jones, she’s not that interesting, but the adventure she’s on is, and that makes us watch. I don’t want to make it sound like I’m bad mouthing Vikander, with the exception of her squeaky screams, she was great on screen as she complimented the film and did not try to be the film.

Roar Uthaug directed the film as an action adventure rather than a star vehicle. The script moves well from first time writers Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons. The rest of the cast Dominic West, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas and Derek Jacobi are good, but Walton Goggins’ soulless bad guy really stays in your brain. I liked this reboot and I look forward to more stories. In its history Tomb Raider has sold 63 million games in the 20 plus years since it’s release and after this film, expect more to be sold.

Swanner 3 stars

Love, Simon


Swanner: Love, Simon follows Simon (Nick Robinson, Kings of Summer), a high schooler who is dealing with knowing that he is gay but not knowing how to come out to his friends and family. In a high school where social media can make or break your teenage years Simon finds himself making many bad choices in this John Hughes inspired dramady. The movie is directed by openly gay Greg Berlanti, with a screenplay by Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, based on the novel, “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli. 

Judd: Gay themed movies have had a renaissance over the past couple years. No, they don’t come as often as they did back in their last hey-day of the mid-90s, but what we’ve lost in quantity, we’ve made up for in quality.  Love, Simon is a coming out story, and while some of it feels very familiar, it addresses the idea that even though, culturally, the world is a much friendlier place for GLBT youth, coming out for the first time is still a scary, stressful event, even when you know at the end of the day, your friends and family will continue to love and support you.

Swanner: You’re right about what a difference a few decades has made for the LGBT coming out story. In the past hey-day, Simon would have been thrown out of his home, or would have had to deal with domestic violence. I can’t even the imagine what social media would have been like in my teenage years. I thought the gossip chain was bad from my era, but this is terrifying how everyone you know can be notified of whatever some bastard would like to share about you. You know how they ask “would you go back to being a teenager again know what you know now?” No, I would not

Judd: Thank you for sharing, Tom, but back to the movie. When an anonymous student named “Blue” posts on the school gossip board that he’s gay but doesn’t know how to come out, Simon sets up his own anonymous gmail account, and the two start communicating. Simon develops feelings for “Blue” while trying to piece together clues to figure out who he is, while being blackmailed by the school tool.

Swanner: I was happy to see that there was support from all the adults in the film, both at school and at home. I particularly liked the moment in the lunchroom when Ms. Albright (Natasha Rothwell) stepped up and confronted two bullies before Simon got himself in trouble. It was one of my favorite moments in the film. I’m also happy to see if we must endure teen angst movies every year that we are starting to see more diverse stories.  Ultimately, the stories are all basically the same but it’s nice to see a different face.

Judd: The two problems I had with the movie was runtime and the Hollywood ending. The movie clocks in at 1 hour and 50 minutes, and too much time is spent with Simon and his insufferable blackmailer. They could have cut some of the douche’s scenes, and saved us all about 20 minutes. The ending was also a little too neat and tidy, with Simon meeting his Mr. Right. It would have been a little more realistic if once they met in person, something went wrong.

Swanner: Like the before mentioned John Hughes, his movies always ended with the protagonist getting what they really wanted, there’s nothing wrong with a Happy Ending… You know what I mean.

Swanner: 3 stars

Judd: 3 stars



Judd: Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo) works for a pharmaceutical company and has a horrible life, but he doesn’t know it yet. His wife (Tandi Newton) is bankrupting him; his boss, Richard (Joel Edgerton) is promising riches while selling him down the river; Elaine (Charlize Theron), his other boss – I think, it’s never really explained – treats him horribly. When some inventory goes missing, Richard, Elaine, and Harold head down to Mexico to check on a factory that is creating a marijuana based pill. Nash Edgerton directs Gringo, written Anthony Tambakis and Matthew Stone.

I left off the fact that the movie also prominently stars Amanda Seyfried, Harry Treadaway, Yul Vasquez, Hernan Mendoza, Diego Catano, Rodrigo Corea, Alan Ruck, Sharito Copley, Carlos Corona, and hell, why not, Paris Jackson.

Trailers makes the movie out to be a Cohen-esque comedy about a hapless loser that gets caught up in a Mexican drug cartel. The trailer bubbles with a million and one characters, each with witty one-liners. The movie does have a million and one characters, and at least a hundred plot lines, none of which amount to anything. The best lines are used in the previews, and for a movie that has so much constantly happening, it goes nowhere and is unbelievably boring to boot. The cast could have been cut by half, and wouldn’t have made a difference in the final product, except for maybe saving me an excruciating 20 minutes.

Though the movie has a superb cast the size of a small town, the characters are all poorly written and flat. Our born-loser, Harold, is at one moment helpless and blind to the evil around him, but cunning and shrewd the next. No, it’s not a character arc, it’s poor writing. Amanda Seyfried is needless, as well as a dozen others. Charlize Theron does what she can with the selfish villainess, but no one can save this garbage fire.

I was really looking forward to seeing Gringo, and was, obviously, severely disappointed. Amazon Studios has done some amazing things, but this is not one of them. Save your time and money. If you’re tempted to watch it when Amazon releases it on Prime, just know that you’ve been warned.

Judd: No stars

A Wrinkle in Time


Swanner: A Wrinkle in Time follows Meg (Storm Red), your average middle schooler trying to fit in. Her father (Chris Pine) disappeared years before and that has become the butt of all jokes at her school. Kids are horrible to each other. Meg’s brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), calls upon three celestial guides (Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling) to help find their father and bring him home.  Ava DuVernay (Selma) directs this adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle beloved novel, screenplay by Jennifer Lee (Frozen) and Jeff Stockwell (Bridge to Terabithia)

The one big problem with the film is that it’s made for the young at heart. Not just children but those adults that can still see through the innocent eyes of a child. I remember when I realized I was starting to lose that innocence when I was watching The Neverending Story years ago. Seeing Bastian flying on his dragon at the end of the film I thought how silly, even though others my age loved the film. It was years later that I realized I could reverse my grown up ways and still see things like my younger self did.

This is really a sweet and wonderful fairy tale for our time. I will give out a warning to those who have lost themselves in the reality of this world…don’t see this film. It’s not meant for you. If you’re no longer thrilled as Charlie Bucket opens his Wonka bar to reveal that golden ticket or when Dorothy Gale realizes she’s not in Kansas anymore…stay home. The joy of this film is wasted on you; but if you still hold your breath as Arthur delivers Gwen’s bike just in time for Christmas, or laugh with the Sanderson sisters every Halloween, then give A Wrinkle in Time a chance.

Swanner: 3 stars

Death Wish


Swanner: Bruce Willis plays Paul Kersey, an ER doctor, who gets the worst call a husband and father can get when his wife and daughter are brought in to his ER after being shot during a home invasion robbery. After weeks of nothing from the police, Kersey decides he’s going to find the men that broke into his house and destroyed his life. Even if it means killing them in the process. Based on the 1974 motion picture which was based on Brian Garfield’s novel, director Eli Roth steps out of his horror shoes to make this very enjoyable action remake.

I was wondering how they were going to make this work; after all, what made it work originally was that this vigilante stayed anonymous. Now in the day of cameras everywhere how can he stay a mystery man on the streets of Chicago? I think they did the best they could do: at one point he does say he avoided the cameras by looking down. The fact is this story-line always works because there is always something awful happening in the world, so when Kersey kills a drug dealer or a car jacker the audience cheers.

As the news and the talk radio folks start to talk about the Vigilante, the audience also gets to decide on how they feel about Kersey’s way of giving back to the community. If you take away the obvious commentary from this story you do get a fun revenge film. Thankfully Roth and screenwriter Joe Carnahan add humor where they can to keep the film from going really dark. They also take full advantage of Willis, who adds his own swagger in bringing Kersey to life.

Swanner: 3 stars