Knives Out

Swanner: On the day of Harlan Thrombey’s 85 birthday, with all of the Thrombey clan is there to celebrate. Harlan, a very successful murder mystery novelist, tired of his gold diggers family, starts cutting people out of the will. In the morning Harley is found dead. If you’re anything like me you love a good murder mystery. During the seventies, NBC had it’s Sunday Night Mysteries with a group of crime fighters. There was McMillan and Wife, McCloud, The Snoop Sisters, and Columbo. Columbo was an odd little man who smoked a cigar while finding out who the murderer was, and why they did it. This film has Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), an odd little PI, who is brought in to prove that the patriarch, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), was murdered, and did not commit suicide. Knives Out has that Columbo feel, and that’s a good thing. 

Written and Directed by Rian Johnson (Star Wars: The Last Jedi), who obviously likes a fun mystery. There is a big cast of stars playing the suspects in this who done it. The successful Daughter and her freeloading husband and son, The son who only knows how to help himself, and the daughter in law stealing from the the bank. Sure, there is a nurse, a housekeeper, and everyone else you might need to keep our detective confused,or is that the real plan all a long??? I’d like to be able to compare it to Clue, or an Agatha Christie novel, but this one is much more Columbo. The production value is fantastic, with a big spooky house on very private property. 

The rest of the cast is lead by Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, and Michael Shannon. All are perfectly cast and are certainly having fun with the games. I can see why they’d want to come along because the film is funny with a witty script, full of good one liners, and it’s all just enough over the top to keep things moving at a good pace. With all the big holiday blockbusters out this season, Knives Out will be a cutting distraction. 

Swanner: 3 stars

Frozen 2

Frozen 2 opens with everyone happy in Arendell. The only thing odd is that Elsa has been hearing a voice that no one else can hear. At first, she just ignores it, but when Arendell loses power and water, Elsa realizes the voice has been a warning. Elsa, Anna, and Kristoff head to the enchanted forest for answers. Sven and Olaf, of course, join them on their quest. Olaf even brought the snacks. Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee from Lee’s screenplay. 
The real difference with the two films is that when I saw the first film, I had no expectations; with this new one I had too many. The story is much more interesting than the first film, and has some serious situations for our characters to deal with. The music also suffers by comparison. That’s not saying the songs aren’t good, they are, but certainly they didn’t give me that immediate wow factor. I still found myself singing “Do you want to build a Snowman” as I left the theater this time. This new film is also more dazzling, and beautiful than its predecessor. The story takes place during the fall, with autumn colors everywhere. 
The whole cast is back with Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, and Josh Gad, with new characters voiced by Sterling K. Brown, Evan Rachel Wood, Jason Ritter, Jeremy Sisto, and Alfred Molina. I don’t want to make it sound like Frozen 2 isn’t worth the watch. It’s really good. I watched it with a smile on my face. It was well worth the wait, and yes, it may take a few listens to the songs to make them permanently locked in the brain. Don’t make the mistake I did and watch the original right before you see this new one. It’s not that it suffers by comparison, it needs to stand on it’s own first. One last thing, see it in a theater.

Swanner 3 1/2 stars 

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood at first glance looks like a warm and sweet look at the life of the late Fred Rogers. It is, but it’s not. Yes, the film has Tom Hanks playing Mr. Rogers, and yes, all of his puppet friends are there, but the film is actually about a writer named Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys). Vogel was assigned the task to write a simple article by Esquire Magazine. An article  about what a hero Fred Rogers was to millions of Americans. Once Vogel meets Rogers, the simple article becomes muddied, because how can he write anything simple about this oddly extraordinary man.

Marielle Heller directs the screenplay from writers Micah Fitzman-Blue and Noah Harpster, based on that actual Esquire article written by Tom Junod. I’m not sure why the change of name, but that’s for another time. The pacing in the film is very deliberate to show the progression of the friendship between the two men. Rogers, who was always trying to help those in pain, could see that Vogel was not a happy man, and was going to help him find his way out of his funk. The writing is thoughtful, and I challenge anyone to leave the film without having a new appreciation for Mr. Rogers, and the man inside the sweater. 

Besides the wonderful performances of Hanks and Rhys, the entire cast shines, including Chris Cooper, Susan Kelechi Watson, Maryann Plunkett, and Wendy Makkena. Sadly, I grew up before Mr. Rogers, so he was just that silly man who hosted a puppet show. I missed what he gave to so many of those younger than myself. I remember when Barney the dinosaur first appeared on the scene an every parent hated him. I was always curious why. All he did was try to teach children how to be kind to each other. Mr. Rogers may have been a silly man with puppets, and a children’s show, but to a generation lucky enough to have watched, he was a hero. I think this film captures that, and everyone exiting the theater is better off for it.

Swanner 3 1/2 Stars

Ford v Ferrari

Judd: In 1966 Ferrari was at the top of their game and had won the past six years at Le Mans, a 24 hour endurance race held in France. Ford was having trouble with their car sales, wasn’t involved in racing, and didn’t have anything “sexy” to sell at the time. This is according to the movie Ford v Ferarri, which may have played a little loose with some of the facts (given that the Mustang debuted in August of 1964), but nevertheless an excellent film starring Matt Damon as Caroll Shelby, Christian Bale as Ken Miles, and Jon Bernthal as Lee Iacocca. Ford V Ferarri was directed by James Mangold and and written by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and Jason Keller.

The movie would have been more aptly named Ford v Miles, since the plot barely plays with the concept of Ford trying to beat Ferrari at Le Mans. The movie focused on the struggles that Caroll Shelby – a man famous for making fast cars faster – and driver/designer Ken Miles, had with the bureaucracy at Ford. Ken Miles was a man that could drive, but wasn’t willing to play nice with those that made the rules. Caroll Shelby had to convince Ford to let Miles drive the car that the two men made drivable. That car was the now famous Ford GT40.

The movie clocks in at 2 hours and 25 minutes, but doesn’t feel long. The racing scenes are exciting and well filmed, with just enough footage of shifting and clutch work to entertain audiences tainted by The Fast and the Furious’ infinitely geared racers. The story is entertaining and you feel for Shelby who has to deal with FoMoCo constantly meddling in his work, and Miles who doesn’t help with his antagonistic ways. I wouldn’t say that the performances are standout; I don’t anticipate anyone getting a nomination, but how can you go wrong with Damon and Bale?

Ford v Ferarri, while enjoyable, is your standard sports movie. Instead of one athlete beating the odds to become a champion, you have two men battling bureaucracy and the limits of what was mechanically possible at the time. I’m not sure if it’s a movie that will appeal to those who aren’t gearheads, but for those of us that are into cars and auto racing, Ford v Ferrari is an enjoyable way to spend two and a half hours.

Judd: 3 stars


Last Christmas



As with all good Christmas stories, they either follow the selfish person, much like Scrooge, or they are a person who does realize how good their life actually is, like George Bailey. This film actually follows a bit of both. Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones) plays Kate, a twenty something who has lost her way. She wants to be a singer, but because of her crappy attitude, she rubs everyone the wrong way. Most of her friends have turned their backs on her because of her “It’s all about me” way of acting, and casting people don’t think she’s all that. Enter Tom (Henry Golding), a young man Kate meets at the Christmas store where she works.

Tom is everything thing she isn’t and Kate finds herself falling for this stranger, which brings on the much needed changes she has been lacking in her life. I’m a sucker for a good Christmas story, and Last Christmas doesn’t disappoint. They give us a character desperate for change, and a charming leading man to spark those changes. Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) directs from a screenplay by Emma Thompson and Bryony Kimmings. The film takes place in London during Christmas, and if London looks this way during the holidays…then I’m going. The film is as magical and beautiful as one might hope. It’s also very funny and sentimental. Yes, you will cry, so plan for it.

Outside of the cast mentioned, the supporting cast brings the film together with the characters who make Kate realize the error of her ways. As her heart grows, so does the love for the people around her. Is it all because this new man has entered her life? Maybe a little, but maybe it’s just a bit of Christmas magic. Emma Thompson, Boris Isakovic, Michelle Yeoh, and Lynia Leonard round out the supporting cast, and they all give lovely, touching performances. The film plays as a romantic comedy, but there is so much more than just that. It reminds us that we need the people around us, the family we have, and the extended family we choose. I’ll be watching Last Christmas again for many Christmases’ to come.

Swanner: 4 stars

Terminator: Dark Fate

This new sequel takes place after the 1991 film, Terminator 2. All the earlier films that took place after the 1991 sequel don’t apply here. The film starts up in a present day, where all the things Skynet were supposed to never happened and life has gone on. Now, a new terminator has arrived from the future to find, and terminate, a young woman named Dani (Natalia Reyes), who lives with her father and brother in Mexico City. There is also a champion sent from the future named Grace (Mackenzie Davis), who has come to make sure Dani lives to fulfill her destiny. Tim Miller (Deadpool) directs. 

The film also brings back two characters from the early films: Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton), and the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Sarah Conner still waits for terminators to return so she can kill them. When Dani is attacked by this new terminator, Grace saves her with the help of Sarah, who has found them, and a team is formed to destroy this latest killer. Once again the action in the film plays a big part with sequences that will have you on the edge of your seat. The special effects are also a huge part of the film, and never disappoint. 

What really makes this work so well is bringing Linda Hamilton back to play this older, bitter Conner. Davis and Reyes do a great job with their performances, but the Terminator films with Hamilton have always been better because her gritty, yet sensitive, no-holds-barred performance gives the film the heart the later films have been missing. It’s great having Arnold back, if for no other reason than to give Sarah the motivation to go on. He’s still got the whole package, and the two validate making this film. The two leads are in their 60’s. and although they look older, that never affects the movie. If you’ve never seen the first two films, you really need to, and then check out this new film. 

Swanner: 3 ½ stars