Judy

Swanner: Judy tells the story of the last few years of Judy Garland’s life. Starting off with her London Concerts, Judy has to leave her two youngest with their father in the states as she travels to England to perform. At this point in her career no one in America will work with her after many divorces, bad behavior, and rumored addictions. Once in London Judy, continues her destructive lifestyle, being too drunk or wasted to perform. Renee Wellweger plays Judy, giving her a voice and face of the woman who started her career playing Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. 

The film is based of Peter Quilter’s stageplay “End of the Rainbow” a one woman show about Garland. Tom Edge adapted the screenplay with Rupert Goold directing. I will warn you that if you’re a Judy fan you’ll find many discrepancies in the timeline with the London Concerts starting 1961, not 1968 and she didn’t happen on Mickey Dean at a party, he delivered her prescriptions from a pharmacy to her hotel. Even if the timeline was correct it, still wouldn’t help the flaws of the script. Only really giving us a summery of Judy’s last few years. That’s what makes Zelweger’s performance all the more brilliant. She gave Judy life. Even with her singing not being a perfect match, she knew how to performance the song the way Garland would have.

We all have heard the lows of Garland’s life, with pills supplied to a teenager by the studios, and the years of her trying to find someone to love her. It’s probably why her children meant so much to her. Even with the limitations the screenplay offered, Zelweger gives us a flawed Garland, scars and all. I would have liked to see the film utilize her music more, especially in pivotal scenes. They do it once after she marries Mickey Dean where she sings “For Once in my Life”. The soundtrack has songs left out that I’m sure would have added more body to the film, but I’m sure the studio said to trim down the running time. The studios are still controlling Garland, even after her death. 

The question here is does Zelweger’s performance shine above this mediocre film? The answer is a resounding yes. We can only hope that the limitations of the film don’t hurt Zelweger’s Oscar chances. This is a performance that should be remembered well after this years Academy Awards. 

Swanner: 2 1/2 stars

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Podast: SJ 252: Big Brother; Songland; Orange is the New Black; Righteous Gemstones; Undone; Neil Francis: Changes; Brittany Howard: Jamie; Ad Astra; and more!

White Background LogoSwanner and Judd talk about Big Brother; Songland; Orange is the New Black; Righteous Gemstones; Undone; Neil Francis: Changes; Brittany Howard: Jamie; Ad Astra; and more!.

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Ad Astra

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Swanner: Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is an astronaut that has followed in his father’s footsteps. Clifford McBride, his father, lead the search for intelligent life by heading the mission to Neptune. When all communications were lost with his ship, the worst was expected. McBride and his crew were presumed dead. Recently there has been an energy pulse which is causing electrical disasters on Earth. The energy pulse is coming from Neptune, which has the military sure that McBride is still alive. They get Roy McBride to agree to send a message to the source of the pulse, in the hopes that his father will answer. Once he does, a ship will be sent to stop him.

Watching the film, I couldn’t stop thinking of Apocalypse Now: an officer has lost his mind and one man is sent in to stop him. Change out jungle for space. The thing about Apocalypse Now is that the long trip to find the Colonel Kurtz has multiple characters that we meet, finding out their stories and their fears. Most of this film is various shots of Brad Pitt, thinking with his endless voiceover, trying to make sense of the boredom; both his and ours. Basically, not a lot happens. The pacing is deadly, and had it not been for an amazing group of technicians, the film would have no redeeming qualities. The cinematography and score are the true highlights of the film.

The acting is fine. Pitt gives a solid performance, when he has something to do other than show beard growth. Tommy Lee Jones and Donald Sutherland in any film is always a good thing, but just not enough here. I’m not sure that selling the film as some space odyssey is a good idea when all we get is the nothingness of space that happens in the film. Pitt’s character may find what he’s looking for in life, but I only found a 2 hour and 2 minutes black hole in my evening.

Swanner: 1 ½ stars

Podcast: SJ 251: Big Brother; So You Think You Can Dance; Songland; Righteous Gemstones; The I Land; Hello White Privilege; The Kominski Method; Bill Burr: Paper Tiger; Curtis Harding: Face Your Fear; Hustlers

White Background LogoSwanner and Judd talk about Big Brother; So You Think You Can Dance; Songland; Righteous Gemstones; The I Land; Hello White Privilege; The Kominski Method; Bill Burr: Paper Tiger; Curtis Harding: Face Your Fear; Hustlers.

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Hustlers

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Hustlers tells the true story of a group of women, most of whom worked together at a strip club, that take advantage of past clients who most just happen to be Wall Street big shots post-2008 crash. Desperate to pay bills and keep up their lifestyles, they come up with the plan to drug the men and drain their credit cards. Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu star as the brains of this crime family. Lorene Scafaria writes and directs this feature based on Jessica Pressler’s New York Magazine article about the crime.

The film places its viewers on the wrong side of the law as these women convince themselves and us that their victims deserve what happens to them, since they were the ones that brought down Wall Street. Even as they start the drugging, it still feels deserved, especially as the burn from the crash still shows in our shriveled 401K’s. The story is played out as Wu tells their story to a journalist (Julia Stills).  Scafaria takes into this gritty world, painting it as glamorous as anything from Scorsese or Coppola.

Jennifer Lopez gives a raw and real performance creating Romona, the stripper who had claimed her share of the pre-crash riches but still wants more, and Constance Wu as the up and comer who makes us want to see these women succeed. Taking place years before the “Me Too” movement, these women were making men pay (literally) for their crimes well before the rest of the world had caught on. The film has a great look and feel, and rated R for obvious reasons. It’s about time to see a story that’s not about men getting away with whatever they want. The ladies get their chance at the big payoff even if it ends in disaster.

Swanner: 3 stars

IT: Chapter 2

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Swanner: After 27 years, all the kids, now grown up, get a call from Mike Hanlon, telling them that IT has come back. Yes, Pennywise the clown has started his killing spree again. Mike asks all the members of “Loser Club” to come home and kill the clown once and for all. After 27 years most of the group had forgotten about what had happened earlier, but without hesitation, all return to Derry Maine to face the the fears from their past. Well, almost all.

Andy Muschietti directs this final chapter of Stephan King novel. Two years ago Muschietti brought us the first half of the story proving that a horror film can be epic in scope and story, giving the first installment the largest opening and overall box office for any horror film in history. IT was originally made as a TV miniseries in 1990, and was a big success with Tim Curry starring as Pennywise the clown. The novel was over 1,100 pages so bringing IT to the big screen was going to take at least two movies to do it. This final chapter has a running time of 2 hours and 49 minutes, and Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman make every minute count. It’s never boring, and it’s never slow.

The cast from the first film work in flashback while the grown-up versions tell this final story.  Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, and Bill Hader lead the cast. What I find amazing about this adaptation is that it’s complete. From the first film to this current film, it feels like nothing has been cut or removed to make the film shorter for theaters. The whole story is there. Muschietti has done what some of the great directors have not, got Stephan King right. It may take 5 hours to do it, but IT will be looked back as the film the changed the way horror films are thought of.  IT is a Masterpiece.

Swanner: 4 stars