Venom

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Swanner: After his life has fallen apart, journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), follows a lead and  finds himself accidentally becoming the host of an alien symbiote that gives him a violent super alter-ego: Venom. Now he needs his newfound powers to protect humanity from crazy billionaire looking to create a new race of human/symbiote hybrids.

Judd: Directed by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland, Super Store, Santa Clarita Diet) and written by Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinker, and Will Beall, Venom plays like Deadpool-lite. The dark villainous hero with zingy one-liners; except Venom plays it safely in the PG-13 world, with very little bloodshed – especially for a monster known for biting off people’s heads.

Swanner: Yes, there was a huge body count with no blood. This was pretty tame with where it could have gone, and probably should have. Tom Hardy was good, but at times I thought he was channeling Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy, with his shaggy loser beginning. Once he meets Venom, things got fun. I also didn’t hate Michelle Williams. I find her very forgettable but here, she was acceptable. It was also nice seeing Jenny Slate break into the Marvel world. 

Judd: I also thought there was something a little off about Hardy’s performance, and I place the blame for that squarely on Fleischer. It would be almost acceptable if we were accusing Hardy of phoning it in, but his performance seemed to be exactly what Fleischer wanted, and that’s where it went wrong. I enjoyed the movie, and I had fun, but it is definitely incomplete.

Swanner: That’s what I meant about Hoffman. Hardy added too much to a character that turns into creature that bites off heads. In my book Hardy can’t do much wrong, so yes, it was Fleischer’s fault. Get a better director in for part two, and that should fix everything. Venom was a lot of fun even with it’s problems. Maybe the 40 minutes cut from the film would have made a difference. I guess we wait for bluray to see.

Swanner: 3 stars
Judd: 2 ½ stars

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The Sisters Brothers

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Judd: Eli and Charlie Sisters (John C Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix) are brothers. They are also hitmen during the Gold Rush on the West Coast. They are tasked with hunting down a prospector by the name of Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), who has discovered a chemical concoction capable of divining gold. Warm has befriended John Morris (Jake Gyllenhall) whom, as of the writing of this review, I can’t remember why he was a character; the movie was that good. The Sisters Brothers was written and directed by Jacques Audiard, and based on the novel of the same name.

Audiard has a long career in French cinema and is a name only recognized in America by movie buffs and critics. That is all you need to know about this movie. If you recognize the name, you will be calling The Sisters Brothers a “twist on the western genre” and an “engrossing character study of two men and their fraternal bond.” Everybody else, including this reviewer, will call the movie a grueling waste of time that uses the Western motif as a gimmick for a movie that could have taken place at any time – past, present, or future. Clocking in at just under two hours, which feels like three, the first two-thirds of the movie follow the bothers as they hunt down Warm. The last third is when we finally see something happen, and, by that time, I had completely lost interest.

I will say that while I was being bored to tears and assaulted by the grating score by the typically brilliant Oscar winner Alexandre Desplat, I kept myself awake by looking at the detail in the costumes. They seemed to be extremely authentic of the period and were amazingly detailed. I will not be surprised to see an Academy nomination for Best Costume Design. However, when a viewer has to focus on the irrelevant details to escape the tedium of the plot the movie is not worth watching.

Once or twice a year, some critical darling releases a movie that causes cinephiles to line up, loosen their jaws, and prepare to to fellate (or cunnilingue, if we’re talking about Sofia Coppola) said individual, while the rest of the world is left scratching their collective heads. The Sisters Brothers is such a movie. If you fancy yourself a pretentious cinephile, you’ll take joy in calling me a plebeian brute who shouldn’t be allowed to slander “art” in such a vulgar manner; meanwhile everyone else will be thanking me for saving them $12.

Judd: 1 star

A Star is Born

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Swanner: An aging rock star, Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper), meets a talented unknown singer, Ally (Lady Gaga), and falls in love with her. Trying to advance her career, he adds her to his shows. In the day of social media, she literally becomes an over night success.  As Ally’s fame builds, Jackson’s life spirals from pills and drugs. He’s also suffering from hearing loss and depression from watching Ally go from being all his to a star.

Bradley Cooper makes his directorial debut while Cooper, Eric Roth, and Will Fetters pen the screenplay. The script is beautifully written, creating what felt like a real love story, and keeping this tragic tale true to it’s past incarnations. The music is good, but I wasn’t humming any of the songs on the way out of the theater. I know the soundtrack will grow on me.

Yes, the direction, script, music, and cinematography are all great, but it’s the acting of the leads that make this work. Cooper changes his voice and sings in the film, making him sexy and shaggy even as his fallen down drunk. Lady Gaga becomes the star in the film but also shines in her first feature film lead. Her performance isn’t just Oscar worthy it’s amazing. I expected her to play a toned down Lady Gaga till she blooms at the end. She was real and honest in her performance, which I’m sure she can thank director Cooper for. Sam Elliot pays Cooper’s brother, and could get his first Oscar nod.

I know people are saying that they can’t think of anyone but Streisand in the role, but there was a generation before that who thought that no one but Judy Garland could play the role. The film seems to be made every time you have a great actress/singer. Gaga fits that description with all the grace and talent of the women who came before her. As we enter award season, expect A Star is Born to be mentioned a lot.

Swanner: 4 stars

Podcast: SJ 210: Big Brother; Survivor; New Amsterdam; Kidding; This Is Us; Single Parents; Murphy Brown; Modern Family; American Housewife; South Park; Murder Party; Shannon and The Clams Onion; Night School

White Background LogoSwanner and Judd talk about Big Brother; Survivor; New Amsterdam; Kidding; This Is Us; Single Parents; Murphy Brown; Modern Family; American Housewife; South Park; Murder Party; Shannon and The Clams: Onion; Night School.

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Night School

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Swanner: Teddy (Kevin Hart) has been just getting by his whole life because he never graduated from High School. After he loses his sales job, he’s given the chance for a great “real job,” but he needs his GED. Teddy goes to register for night school only to find the kid he picked on in high school is the principal (Taren Killam), and the woman (Tiffany Haddish) he just made fun of is the teacher.

Judd: Written by Hart, Harry Ratchford, Joey Wells, Matthew Kellard, Nicholas Stoller and John Hamburg, directed by Malcom D Lee, Night School suffers from too many cooks in the kitchen. The script is seemingly divided up into parts amongst the writers, with none of them knowing what the other is writing. With a runtime of 1 hour and 51 minutes, every writer gets his 22 minutes of story to tell, when some portions should have been cut altogether.

Swanner: You think that with such a talented cast no script could be that bad, but this is. Some scenes felt improvised. Unfinished. Written by someone that doesn’t know how to write a film. I did notice that three of the writers write for Kevin Hart, one writer is Kevin Hart and the other two I can’t believe wrote any of this script. My other big grip is that Tiffany Haddish is a secondary character in the film and that’s a big mistake, because the scenes that she was in are the scenes that worked the best.  

Judd: The acting was fine, but I don’t think either of us can really get to the bottom of how bad the script is. Everything feels like a setup without a punchline. Teddy works at a fast food restaurant called Christian Chicken that operates across the street from a strip club – no payoff. Teddy has a super smart twin sister – no payoff. Teddy’s girlfriend hates Teddy – no payoff. Teddy has a friend that’s going to get him a job in the financial sector – no payoff. At the end Teddy tells Haddish that he thinks they have chemistry (they don’t) in front of his girlfriend, which understandably upsets his girlfriend. When Haddish tells him she’s a lesbian, the girlfriend no longer sees it as an issue. What?

Swanner: The supporting cast, Rob Riggle, Romany Malco, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Al Magrigal and Anne Winters play the other Night School students. They are all lead characters and they do their best with what terrible script they’re given. Is the film funny? Yes, there are funny scenes but with the talent and even the simple storyline this could have been hilarious. #disappointed.

Judd: I was worried with the PG-13 Rating, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so bad. This movie could have been so much funnier, had someone taken control of the writers’ room and put them all on the same track. Hart produced Night School; he should have been the one to wrangle this mess. Definitely ditch Night School.

Swanner: 2 Stars
Judd: ½ star

The House with a Clock in Its Walls

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Swanner: After the death of his parents, Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) goes to live with his eccentric uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) only to find out that his uncle isn’t eccentric, he’s a warlock. Lewis convinces his uncle to teach him magic, but trying to impress a friend, Lewis does a spell that could end the world as they know it. Director Eli Roth brings his horror experience to this family film, giving it a vibe of Goosebumps or The Witches. Eric Kripke scripts from the novel by John Bellairs.

Set in a small town in Michigan in the mid-fifties, we find out the town has a past with a glut of magical people including Florence (Cate Blanchett), the witch next door, and Issac Izard (Kyle Maclachlan), the past owner of the house who happens to be Jonathan’s former magician partner and the warlock who placed the clock in the walls. The clock is a doomsday clock that is ticking away but when will this clock ring?

Roth really does a nice job creating this PG rated film. Making it light enough for kids but still entertaining for adults. It does have moments of silliness but I found myself involved in the story the same way I was with Hocus Pocus. Big stars hamming it up for big laughs and some good scares. At one point the dolls and toys in the house become animated which had me eyeballing my own collectibles once I got home…very creepy. This should find itself as a Halloween annual for year to come.

Swanner: 3 stars