Category Archives: Entertainment

An unnecessary sequel in the movie

Billy Bob Thornton’s grouchy Santa is finally back, but his sequel is pretty ho-ho-horrible.

It’s been thirteen years since the original “Bad Santa” found its fan base, and it feels like someone’s been trying to make a sequel ever since. Opening over Thanksgiving weekend, “Bad Santa 2” brings back Billy Bob Thornton’s cranky, bitter, alcoholic safecracker Willy, who is called back into action by his former partner, Marcus (Tony Cox).

This time, they’re off to Chicago to rob a charity of millions, but once there, Willy realizes his equally foul-mouthed and estranged mother (Kathy Bates) will also be involved in their heist. The robbery gets a little more complicated with the need to seduce an amorous security guard (Jenny Zigrino) to get her keys to reach the safe. Willy, meanwhile, has his eye on the comely Diane (Christina Hendricks), who runs the charity.

None of the original creative team, including creators Glenn Ficcara and John Requa, were involved with this sequel. They have since gone on to better things, while original director Terry Zwigoff is replaced by “Mean Girls” director Mark Waters, working on his raciest material to date.

It’s almost immediately obvious Waters is out of his depth, as most of the attempted humor just falls flat, even when a lot of the filthiest lines are coming out of Bates’ mouth. Certainly, one hopes Bates’ sassy, heavily-tattooed counterpart to Thornton will hold her own — and she mostly does, but that doesn’t make their clunky banter work any better.

The original “Bad Santa” came out at a time before Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen and their gang found a way to innovate R-rated humor in a smart and clever way. “Bad Santa 2” seems like a dated throwback where everyone constantly hurls expletives and makes filthy, often gag-inducing cracks at each other, amounting to more disgust than laughs.

The only part that really works is when Thornton’s Santa is interacting with the kids, but then they repeat a joke almost verbatim from the first film. Maybe they saw it as a witty homage, but it just comes across like laziness

Musical flop on movie reviews

Everybody gets the fact that after a dream comes true it can still fall apart. And then what? That’s the intriguing question answered in the affecting, but uneven documentary “Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened.”

Co-written and directed by Lonny Price, the film revisits Stephen Sondheim’s 1981 musical flop “Merrily We Roll Along.” Any theater nerd knows the cautionary tale that producers tell their children at bedtime. Price’s documentary covers the show’s creation, shocking failure and far- and long-reaching aftershocks.

Price knows his subject. He was one of the stars in the show and like other wide-eyed castmates 35 years ago, including a pre-“Seinfeld” Jason Alexander, felt like he’d hit the jackpot at the time. No wonder. The musical marked the latest new collaboration of composer-lyricist Sondheim and director Hal Prince, each riding high after a decade of hits. Among them, “Company.” D.A. Pennebaker’s fascinating 1970 doc covered the recording of that show’s cast album.

The musical “Merrily,” like the play it’s based on, is told in reverse. Disillusioned and corrupted middle-aged friends become their younger, optimistic selves with each scene. The show had big things to say about friendship, betrayal and disappointment. Good stuff. But the show all went wrong thanks to various reasons and poor decisions. The bond between Sondheim and Prince snapped. Shellshocked young performers reeled from the harsh reality bite.

In the film’s superior first half, Price weaves fresh interview material with already-filmed footage from an in-the-works documentary which had been abandoned. The young performers’ OMG! enthusiasm is contagious. The same goes for Sondheim’s music — the show’s score is chockablock with hits. But the failure of “Merrily” is exposed halfway into the doc, which is too early. Too much of the movie consists of where-are-they-now chats with now middle-aged ex-“Merrily” alums.

The film’s second act packs a bittersweet punch, along with the fact that the failed show is now much-respected. But all of that could have been tied up in a quicker epilogue. The chorus, so to speak, lacks a hook. Too bad, considering that, to quote a Sondheim song from the show, they “had a good thing going.”

Doctor Strange on post election

NEW YORK — Moviegoers drained by the drama of the presidential election sought refuge at the movies over the weekend, where ticket sales were robust for just about everything.

Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” led the North American box office for the second week with $43 million, according to studio estimates Sunday. That was an especially strong hold for the Benedict Cumberbatch-led superhero blockbuster, which is now nearing $500 million globally. “Trolls,” the musical animated release from 20th Century Fox with Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake, also held well in its second week with $35.1 million, bringing its cumulative domestic total to $94 million.

Denis Villeneuve’s science-fiction thriller “Arrival,” starring Amy Adams, scored the weekend’s top debut with a better-than-expected $24 million for Paramount Pictures. Opening in fourth was Universal Pictures’ “Almost Christmas,” the first holiday-themed release to hit theaters. The family gathering comedy, starring Danny Glover and Gabrielle Union, debuted with $15.6 million.

The weekend box office was up about 47 percent from last year, according to comScore. The Friday holiday of Veteran’s Day also helped stoke business. Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore, said the wide variety of releases gave moviegoers plenty of choice for escapism over the postelection weekend.

The good showing for “Arrival,” which cost $47 million to produce, was a welcome relief for Paramount. The studio has endured a string of disappointments — including “Ben-Hur” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” — with a relatively thin slate of releases.

Paramount paid $20 million for the film’s domestic distribution rights. The film, in which a linguist is tasked by the government to communicate with newly arrived aliens, has drawn good reviews from critics.

Ang Lee’s “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” also made its much awaited debuted, albeit on just two screens. The Sony Pictures release, which opens nationwide next week, grossed $120,300 from two theaters (one in New York, on in Los Angeles). The two locations are the only places in North America the film is screening in Lee’s innovative 120 frames-per-second version (five times the normal rate), in addition to being in 3-D and at 4k resolution.

Songs and a great role by Dwayne Johnson

“I am not a Princess!” protests the young heroine of “Moana,” right in the middle of her hero’s quest to fulfill her destiny.

Her spirit is exuberant and the setting is novel, but the trickster demigod Maui, voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, has a clear, honest appraisal. “You’re wearing a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a Princess.”

It’s hardly a knock against “Moana” to suggest it has throwback elements. Its first half hour is old school Disney: a teen daughter on a Pacific island (voiced by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho) yearns to travel out to the sea, but her father, the village chief (“Star Wars”‘ Temuera Morrison) demands she stay on land to watch over her people.

Think of it as the inverse of “Little Mermaid,” which makes sense since “Moana” directors Ron Clements and John Musker made that film.

Moana is, of course, a “chosen one,” as the stars of all kid movies are these days. Her island’s food supplies are drying up because of a curse accidentally caused by the meddling Maui. If Moana can sail across the gorgeously rendered blue sea and convince the powerful Polynesian pest to return a gemstone to a lava monster – basically return the One True Ring to Mount Doom – all will be well in Moana’s oceanfront Shire.

The story may not be so original, but it’s the details that shine. Moana is a strong, determined and funny young woman, and Johnson is outstanding as her pompous but crafty, tattooed partner. Yes, The Rock can carry a tune and his big song-and-dance number “You’re Welcome” is a hoot.

The music doesn’t offer “Frozen”-levels of goosebumps but the songs, co-written by “Hamilton”‘s Lin-Manuel Miranda, put wind in the sails of this way-finding adventure. There’s also that animal sidekick (a gloriously dumb chicken) and an original, big concept character: the guiding force of the ocean itself.

Best movie review for this month

There’s little originality scared up by “The Monster,” but that doesn’t make director Bryan Bertino’s horror flick easier to watch through the gaps in your fingers.

What elevates the story of a mother and daughter stalked by the titular creature after their car breaks down is the acting of Zoe Kazan and her on-screen child, Ella Ballentine (“Anne of Green Gables”).

Much of the film’s 90 minutes of running time is padded out by flashbacks to explain the domestic breakdown that led them to break down on that particular stretch of road.

There’s little originality scared up by “The Monster,” but that doesn’t make director Bryan Bertino’s horror flick easier to watch through the gaps in your fingers.

What elevates the story of a mother and daughter stalked by the titular creature after their car breaks down is the acting of Zoe Kazan and her on-screen child, Ella Ballentine (“Anne of Green Gables”).

Much of the film’s 90 minutes of running time is padded out by flashbacks to explain the domestic breakdown that led them to break down on that particular stretch of road.

There’s never any explanation for where exactly that reject from an “Aliens” movie came from, but once the screaming starts Bertino doesn’t give viewers time to think about it. It’s just a drooling MacGuffin.

All about film electrical workers

Director David Hackl’s “Life on the Line” is supposed to be a moving story about men working electrical lines. Viewers, however, might require a high-voltage shock just to endure it.

The action/drama film, which premiered at the Napa Valley Film Festival a year ago, has an impressive cast headlined by John Travolta, Kate Bosworth and Sharon Stone.

But the script, written by Primo Brown, Marvin Peart and Peter I. Horton, is a complete and utter melodramatic bore.

Shockingly predictable and formulaic, perhaps the only saving grace is Jeff Toyne’s appropriate music.

It starts off promising, at least conceptually, but resorts to well-trodden conventions of the genre and overly effusive scenes, with a rape premise horribly woven in.

While Travolta and Bosworth, playing the lead characters of Beau and Bailey, respectively, deliver admirable performances, the story they’re working under is just not up to snuff.

The production values are mediocre and the story surprisingly veers away from a lineman’s day-to-day routine, but director Hackl and the writing team did at least conceive a versatile character in Beau, though he too gets pulled into the melodrama on occasion.

“Life on the Line” is a film that probably won’t hold your attention throughout its 97-minute running time, but it is, at the very least, a well-intentioned tribute to the workers who often sacrifice themselves to make sure lights stay on.

In Hackl’s film, Travolta plays a distraught uncle, Beau, who loses his brother to “the line.” Once a free spirit, Beau grounds himself and raises his orphaned niece, Bailey (Bosworth), who grows to love him but yearns to leave the small town.

Not even close to holiday treat

All I want for Christmas is my two hours back.

Over the course of five long days, the large ensemble cast of David E. Talbert’s “Almost Christmas” fights, crashes a car, cooks, cheats, fights, runs for congress, fights and, of course, reconciles.

The overdrawn cliché circles around the Meyers family’s first Christmas without their mother and Walter’s (Danny Glover) wife- a decent if not somewhat overdone movie premise.

But, as far as this season’s comedies go, “Almost Christmas” is one audiences can skip.

Gabrielle Union, who also executive produced the film, is laughable in the sense that someone, including herself, thought her lines felt the least bit natural. Each overused phrase that falls out of her character, Rachel’s, vindictive, childish mouth takes viewers further out of the movie experience. She’s frustrating in her immaturity and unbelievable as a mother. Union is somehow old enough to have an adolescent daughter but she’s still in school, is still upset with her neighbor over a high school misunderstanding, but she’s also a divorcee.

Her pretentious sister, Cheryl, played by Kimberly Elise is a successful medical professional (it’s unclear in which field, exactly), and is implausibly married to raging buffoon, JB Smoove. Cheryl and Rachel hate each other, again for reasons that are never explained, but for brief, confusing moments, that story line drops out and they seem to be just fine. It would’ve served the film better to have had a reason for their dual loathing and even a bit of consistency around it would have helped.

Big brother Christian (Romany Malco) plays the “been there, seen that” character who’s overworked and neglectful of his family during the holidays but don’t worry, the cliffhanger of “will he or won’t he” do the right thing doesn’t last too long without a predictable resolution. In a comedy, Malco, who was hilarious in “The 40 Year-Old Virgin,” is underused and his skill for humor is underutilized.

Best romantic drama

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard play spies in love in a steamy World War II drama where there are more romantic fireworks than tanks and explosions.

Depending on what you believe, “Allied” is either a Robert Zemeckis-directed period spy thriller or “the movie that broke up Brad Pitt’s marriage,” but watching Pitt parachute down into Morocco as the film opens might make you expect more of a James Bond-inspired flick.

Instead, “Allied” turns out to be a slower wartime romance in which Pitt plays Max Vattan, a British assassin sent to Casablanca to kill a high-ranking Nazi officer. We see early on how deadly Max can be, but he’s been assigned to create the ruse of being married to Marion Cotillard’s Marianne Beauséjorge, an equally deadly French agent.

Pretending to be married eventually drives them closer together and Max and Marianne decide to get married for real, despite the warnings from Max’s commander (Jared Harris). Marianne soon becomes pregnant as they settle down in England to lead a more domestic life.

That tranquility is shattered when Max learns that Marianne may actually be an undercover Nazi spy.

There was a time when the romance displayed on the movie screen was so palpable, moviegoers believed the actors were truly in love. While that might not be the case here, there are clear parallels drawn between being an actor and being a spy, another job in which you must pretend to be someone you’re not. The fact that Pitt is in the midst of a divorce off-screen will probably have some viewers reading into the chemistry of the leads in “Allied” during the love scenes.

The Casablanca section of the movie is just fine, a slow burner that gives us some idea what their characters are capable of, but things get far more interesting once Max needs to track down the truth about his beloved wife and mother of his child. Lizzy Caplan has a small role as Max’s lesbian sister, but she, like the rest of the supporting cast, tends to get overshadowed by the film’s two leads.

What happen with the showcases Natalie Portman

“Jackie” is a profile in courage.

Its hero doesn’t carry a gun. She isn’t even in uniform — unless you count the pink suit and pillbox hat.

But she does wage a war, for her husband’s legacy, and to hasten her country’s healing in the aftermath of his death.

Natalie Portman stars as Jackie Kennedy in a film that looks at the worst four days in her life — from a Friday in Dallas that ends with her cradling her dying husband, to a Monday in Washington that begins with his funeral procession.

Portman’s been a committed, in-the-moment actress since she was a skinny kid running after “Leon: The Professional” but “Jackie” is an accomplishment on the Oscar-winning order of “Black Swan.” She gets the former First Lady’s breathy voice, her quiet style — and ever-present, barely-held-in-check nervousness.

And Pablo Larrain’s movie shows just what the real Jackie Kennedy had to deal with that November — a new President itchy to take over, powerful in-laws who had their own idea on how to grieve and a nation that didn’t know what would come next.

And so Jackie shows them — by crying in private, holding her head high in public and gently, firmly, bringing us all along with her on that long walk to Arlington National Cemetery.

As expert as Portman is, the rest of the cast settles for approximations. Peter Sarsgaard gets some of Bobby Kennedy’s feistiness, but he doesn’t really sound or look like him. If someone didn’t call him by name, you’d never guess that John Carroll Lynch was supposed to be playing LBJ.

Better is Billy Crudup, playing a journalist who, weeks later, has gone to Jackie Kennedy for “the truth.” Except she knows what the nation needs is a myth. And while she’s reluctant to talk about the assassination itself (which the film eventually recreates, in gruesome detail) she is intent on beginning the legend of Camelot.

The perfectly exact White House sets help her do that here, while Mica Levi’s throbbing orchestral score adds the proper funereal tone. And whenever the movie begins to falter — it cuts, sometimes confusingly, among at least three different timelines — Portman pulls it back together, and sets it back on course.

Which, of course, is what Jackie herself did for an entire country — all those impossibly distant, different years ago.

Marks upcoming auteur to behold on movie reviews

Halloween may be behind us, but those still looking for jarringly disturbing filmmaking should appreciate Nicolas Pesce’s directorial debut.

Shot completely in black and white, “The Eyes of My Mother” follows Francisca, a young girl living in seclusion on a remote farm with her eye surgeon mother and farmer father. After her mother is murdered by an armed stranger, Francisca (Olivia Bond) is left alone with her father (Paul Nazak), who chains his wife’s murderer in the barn. After her father dies, Francisca keeps his corpse around for company, making it obvious that seeing her mother’s murder has left Francisca quite disturbed.

Told in three distinct sections, “The Eyes of My Mother” follows Francisca as she grows up and takes up her own hobbies — like doing unspeakable things to that stranger in the barn.

Kika Magalhaes, who plays the older version of Francisca, is quite an amazing find. The camera is captivated by her, whether she is doing mundane things or randomly murdering anyone who follows her home. The tone and delivery of her scarce dialogue is quite distinct.

Certainly, parallels can be drawn between Pesce’s film and horror classics from Hitchcock’s “Psycho” to “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.” The opening scene of a woman running across a deserted highway draws immediate comparisons to the low budget classic “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” — but this is a slower and more brooding piece of filmmaking.

In some ways, Pesce’s film is often more disturbing for what it doesn’t show than what it does, with the last act probably the hardest to watch.

Even if you hate the movie’s premise or the way it’s executed, you have to give some credit to the brilliantly stark cinematography by Zach Kuperstein and the captivating score by Ariel Loh, both of which keep the viewer on edge.