A Bad Moms Christmas

Posted on November 2, 2017 at 6:00 am

D
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, and some drug use
Profanity: Very strong, explicit, and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drunkenness, substance abuse humor, drinking to deal with stress, drinking as a bonding experience, drugs,
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: Mild racism portrayed as humorous
Date Released to Theaters: November 3, 2017
Date Released to DVD: February 5, 2018
Copyright 2017 STX

If you think these things are hilarious, then “A Bad Moms Christmas” is your movie:

1. A young child repeatedly saying the words that go with OMFG, which she explains she heard when her daddy and his girlfriend were yelling at each other in the bedroom, and the girlfriend punched through the wall and they did it seven times.

2. A character who works in a spa meets the man of her dreams when he asks her to wax his private parts, which he describes in detail, so he can participate in a “Sexy Santa” male stripper competition.

3. At the competition, one of the strippers is revealed to be overweight.

4. Three moms deal with holiday stress by getting drunk at the mall, grinding on Santa, and then stealing a Christmas tree decorated with sneakers from Footlocker.

5. A mother slams her teenage son in the crotch with a foam bat, just for fun.

6. An extended product placement for a trampoline-jumping party place.

I do not.

I didn’t like the first Bad Moms movie, either. Like the original, this is a slack and lazy script that pretends to be all “you go, girl” empowerment but in reality has contempt for its intended audience, clearly thinking we don’t know or won’t care that we are being insulted. The pressure women are under to be everything to everyone and the complicated relationships women have with their mothers and daughters is well worth exploring and well worth exploring via comedy. But the men who wrote this have no particular interest in exploring it. This is just a bunch of dumb scenes strung together with so few ideas that they have to throw in some truly excruciating product placement with an extended scene in a trampoline playground until it is blessedly time to go home. It is a real shame to waste the monumentally talented cast on this smug and silly story, including the criminally underused Jay Hernandez. It’s bad enough that his role in the film is “perfect boyfriend,” but the script inflicts some casual racism on him as well. A wealthy woman mistakes him for a bellhop, in the home of his girlfriend, not even a hotel! Oh, my aching sides!

Oh, and the trampoline playground people should get their money back because this movie makes it look like the most un-fun thing ever, except for maybe watching this movie.

In the first film, Amy, a harried newly single mother (Mila Kunis), Kiki, an overwhelmed stay at home mom (Kristen Bell), and Carla, a hard-partying pottymouth with a teenage son (Kathryn Hahn) join forces to oppose the impossible standards of perfection and the mean girl PTA President (Christina Applegate) who embodies them. In the sequel, they face two of any mother’s most high-pressure situations: Christmas and the arrival of their own mothers.

Amy’s mother is a demanding perfectionist who insists that the family attend the five-hour version of “The Nutcracker” in the original Russian and sing at 300 houses dressed as characters from “A Christmas Carol” (Amy as Scrooge) with a choir as back-up so they can win a caroling contest. Carla’s mother (Susan Sarandon) is a rock and roll party girl who calls herself Isis (“like the terrorist group,” she explains), constantly either high, “borrowing” money, scamming someone, or all three at once. And Kiki’s mother (Cheryl Hines) is somewhere between smothering, helicoptering, and Single White Female crazy stalking.

A bunch of random stuff and outrageous chaos happens before the heart-to-heart talks that belatedly sort everything out, including some sort of job interview that occurs late on Christmas eve for no other reason than that they want to tie things up and figure no one will notice, to say nothing of a complete personality change here and there. It isn’t that we expect realism from a broad comedy, but it is fair for us to expect that once we enter the movie’s world, its premises will remain consistent enough for us to enjoy the payoff. Instead, we get this, and a lump of coal in the stockings of all who were responsible.

Parents should know that this movie has extremely raunchy humor with many explicit and crude sexual references and some sexual situations and very strong language used by and in front of children. Characters drink and use drugs, and they drink to deal with stress and to bond with each other. There is comic violence and peril, but no one gets hurt, and there are conversations about death and divorce of parents and about poor parenting.

Family discussion: Who is responsible for the standards the moms felt they had to live up to? What should the moms have said to their mothers? Why didn’t they say it?

If you like this, try: “Bridesmaids”

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Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies -- format Reviews Series/Sequel

Suicide Squad

Posted on August 3, 2016 at 12:00 pm

Copyright 2016 Warner Brothers
Copyright 2016 Warner Brothers

I always say that the success of a superhero movies depends on the bad guy. So, shouldn’t a movie that is all bad guys be really great? That’s the idea behind “Suicide Squad,” a sort of “Avengers” (all-star hotshots who don’t play well with others have to work together as a team to save the world) crossed with “The Dirty Dozen.” And it kind of works. On the one hand, it is an August movie, the cinematic equivalent of the shelf in the back of the grocery story with the dented cans, irregulars, and day-old bread. On the other hand, it approaches a nicely messy, authentically amateurish, form equals content vibe that suits the subject matter. If these guys made their own movie, they might overlook some of the fine points, too.

Our scrappy little band of anti-heroes live in one of those “lock them up, throw away the key, throw away the Constitution, and any record of their existence while you’re at it” sort of prisons. Will Smith plays Deadshot, an assassin with a young daughter he loves. Margot Robbie is Harley Quinn, a psychiatrist turned psychopath with the demeanor of a school girl, locked in a romantic tangle with the Joker (Jared Leto) so twisted it makes Sid and Nancy look like Dick and Jane. Somewhere behind full-face tattoos, Jay Hernandez is Diablo, a gang-banger with the power of fire. Somewhere inside a reptilian rubber suit (maybe it is CGI, but it looks like rubber) is Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Killer Croc, and I never quite figured out what he could do besides fight and swim. Jai Courtney plays the Aussie thief Boomerang. Neither one of them is intelligible.

They get a chance to escape the abuses and isolation of prison life when national security expert Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) says that their special skills make them the world’s only hope against the terrorism threat that entities with supernatural powers will pose. “The world changed when Superman flew across the sky. It changed again when he didn’t.” (Cut to super-coffin)

Waller is certain she can control them. Whether she can or not, there is no alternative. And so they are assigned to Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), who informs the motley crew that each of them has an explosive injected into his/her neck, and that he will not hesitate to blow their heads off if they disobey or even if they vex him. “I’m known to be vexing,” Harley Quinn pipes up helpfully, well aware that saying so she proves her point. And then it’s off to the big confrontation with some moments for (1) some bad behavior, (2) some exchanges of confidence and bonding to let us see that these guys may be bad but they have their good points and while they may have made some poor choices, they have feelings, too, (3) a few reminders that these are the bad guys, (4) some setbacks and death of a tangential character to show us how serious this is, and (5) weaknesses becoming strengths, strengths becoming weaknesses, a chance to see that some of the good guys aren’t so good and some of the bad guys aren’t so bad (and deaths are not necessarily deaths).

Here is what the movie gets right: B**** please. Margot Robbie is a huge movie star who owns this film and every moment she is on screen in “Suicide Squad” you get your money’s worth and then some. Anything else that works in the film is an extra cherry on the sundae. #imwithharley so give HQ her own movie PDQ.

Smith and Kinnaman are also excellent. Most of the best of the rest was in the trailer including one exchange which inexplicably was cut from the film. In fact, given the many evident recuts and reshoots, Warner Brothers should just have turned the footage over to whoever made the trailer and let them control the final print.  The soundtrack veers into Spotify playlist mode but there are some good choices.

Here is what it gets wrong: Writer/director David Ayer, whose speciality has been military and law enforcement stories, does not understand the right tone for a comic book movie. Compare Marvel/Disney, which managed to create distinctive and right-on-the-money tones for Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Deadpool and yet make us believe they could exist in the same universe, and made that work in the “Avengers” movies without shortchanging anyone. Second, note the reference to the evidence of reworking above. Third, note the very first thing I said. Comic book movies are all about the villain. In this case, with villains as the the good guys, they really need someone specially evil for us to root against. The villains in this film are terrible in every category, starting with the special effects, which should be primo, right, Warner Brothers? But most importantly, a movie that spends too much time introducing us to the Z-team’s backstories never provides us with the basics about the powers and threat of the bad guys so we have no way of knowing what we are hoping for (other than obliteration) from the final battle. Wait, so this and that didn’t work but this and that do? Really? And what happened to those SEALS?

It is good to see more than one female character and this film has four strong and powerful women of different races. But the gender politics of the film are less than one might wish.  Both female Suicide Squad members are there because of the men they love, and the female villain is alternately weak around the man she loves and strong but not as strong as her brother. Viola Davis, as always, is sublime as a woman who may be only human but is in every way a match for anyone, superpowered or politically powered.

It’s better than “Batman vs. Superman” and “The Fantastic Four,” but it falls frustratingly short of what it could have and should have been.

NOTE: Stay through the credits for an extra scene, but you don’t have to stay after that.

Parents should know that this film includes extended sci-fi/fantasy violence with some graphic and disturbing images, torture, abuse, many characters injured and killed, skimpy costumes, sexual references, some strong language

Family discussion: Who was the worst villain in the movie? Who caused the most harm? What could “bad guys” do that the “good guys” could not?

If you like this, try: “The Avengers” and “The Dirty Dozen”

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Bad Moms

Posted on July 28, 2016 at 11:18 pm

Even the most outrageous comedy has to have some grounding in reality, if only through taking place in a world that is consistently imagined. If we don’t know where we are, there may be jokes, but it is not truly comedy.

Writer/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore are not people with a lot of ideas. Their “21 and Over” was pretty much the same movie as their “Hangover.” And the big innovation here is that this time it’s girls-gone-wild instead of boys. But it plays like it was inspired by a couple of women’s magazine articles about the impossibility of “having it all.” The movie says it comes down on the side of not judging other mothers, those who seem to be losing it and those who seem to be holding it together. The message is that it’s good to forgive yourself for not being able to be perfect all the time. And it’s important to understand that loving your children means letting them learn to be responsible and not doing everything for them. But those good thoughts are undercut by the unexpectedly sour triumph of the main characters, with antagonists who must be shown as spineless or pitiful.

The reality of women’s lives is a target-rich environment for comedy and the reality of mothers’ lives is especially so. But this script is so lazy that it does not meet the level of basic cable sitcoms for originality and wit. Those shows may be bland and formulaic, but they have humor in 22 minutes than “Bad Moms” does in 101.

This is a movie that is supposed to be about female empowerment. There are two specific instances that involve women telling their cartoonishly awful husbands that they need to take more responsibility for their children and their households. And yet, this is a movie that consistently shows the PTA as apparently entirely made up of women, with the exception of one man who is shown at a PTA meeting specifically so he can be humiliated in public by his wife. Funny. amiright? And this is a school that apparently includes elementary, middle, and possibly high school students, does not notice when a mother does a child’s homework, and has a pot-smoking principal who can’t stand up to the President of the PTA. What?

“Hangover” worked because most of the movie was about dealing with the horrible consequences of a major sort-of-accidental bender. “Bad Moms” tries to persuade us that a bender and attendant irresponsible behavior are signs of liberation. The bender is a mild one, no tigers or tooth extractions. On the other hand, the issue of money is raised but in the kind of fairy tale way that suggests no one connected with the movie has had to think about how to pay for groceries — or damage inflicted on a grocery store — in a very long time.

We’re supposed to believe them when they talk about how much they love their kids and would do anything for them, but they don’t really seem to enjoy or support them.

And newsflash — jokes about foreskins, butt stuff, and girl-on-girl kisses as a sign of rebellion and edginess are so 1998.

The one-dimensional characters are as follows: Mila Kunis plays Amy, the exhausted mom of two who boots out her childish, cheating husband. She’s had no sex in years. Kristen Bell is Kiki, the exhausted mom of four whose husband treats her like Cinderella. They have sex once a week (“After “Blue Bloods!”) but he is not very, uh, excited or exciting. And Kathryn Hahn is Carla, the happy, unreliable slut who does not even know what a standardized test is, much less whether her son has to take and pass them. She talks about sex all the time but does not seem to be having any either. Christina Applegate is Gwendolyn, the Mean Girl (with henchmen played by Jada Pinkett-Smith and “Bridesmaids” co-writer Annie Mumolo (who should have done a major rewrite here).

One thing Lucas and Moore get right is the combination of the humblebrag and the insult-wrapped in a compliment handed out by the ladies who run the school. Yes, when they flutter their eyelashes and say, “I don’t know how you do it,” to Amy, she understands that they mean, “You’re doing it badly.” And there is a lot to be said about impossible standards and judgey people, especially when it comes to parenting. But that requires actually saying something, not just pointing it out.

Amy blows her top, decides not to try to be everything to everyone any more, and then when Gwendolyn lashes back, involving Amy’s daughter (in the Bizarro world of this movie, the head of the PTA is in charge of everything in the school), Amy decides to run against her, on a platform similar to but less authentic than that of Tammy in “Election.” Even in a PTA election, someone has to propose something more than “let’s do less and not judge each other.”

All four women are brilliant actors and comedians and make as much of this material as they can, but they all deserve much better. Jay Hernandez transcends the thankless role of the hot guy, making him the only male in the film who is not completely infantilized. Someone needs to put him in a leading man role. And someone needs to start putting women in the leading role of writing and directing stories about women, or at least men who can do better than this.

NOTE: The highlight of the movie is the series of conversations over the credits with the actresses and their real-life mothers, filled with exactly the wit and heart missing from most of the film.

Parents should know that this film is crude and explicit language throughout including very strong and crude language, drinking, drugs, sexual references and explicit nudity, and comic peril and violence.

Family discussion: Who is responsible for the standard the moms felt they had to live up to? How would this be different if it was about dads?

If you like this, try: “The Hangover”

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Takers

Posted on January 24, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Why make a movie with so many first-rate performers and give central roles to people who cannot act and have no star power on screen? For the answer, read the credits. Rap star T.I. and R&B star Chris Brown are producers. And they have produced the movie they thought would be fun to star in rather than the movie that would be fun to watch. They were smart enough to surround themselves with top talent but not smart enough to learn from them.

This is the second low-grade armored car robbery film in months and every part of it feels overused, sketched in, or glossed over. The most important element of a heist film is to make it clear whose side we are supposed to be on. The second most important element is to make it clear what the challenge of the heist is and let us see as the problems are solved. This movie fails at both.

It opens with a bank robbery, expertly executed by a group of characters whose backgrounds, motives, and expertise are not considered worth exploring. “The degree of difficulty’s off the charts,” a detective says almost admiringly. We know they’re supposed to be cool because they move in slow motion with a bit of jazz in the score.

Matt Dillon is the cop who picks up on details everyone else ignores, but risks losing his family. There is a goofy scene that has him following a suspect with his little daughter in the car, as she gets sadder and sadder about his broken promise. He has a partner, played by the always-likable Jay Hernandez. We could easily be rooting for them, but the movie seems to want us to be on the side of the robbers without giving us any reason to do so. They seem to be doing it just for the high of getting away with something. “Ten percent to the usual charities,” they tell their money manager, followed by a brisk discussion of basis points and the relative benefits of the Cayman Islands versus the Dutch Antilles for offshore money storage.

They are a careful crew who insist on a year between jobs until something comes up that is so juicy they cannot resist. Or is it a trap?

There’s a showy chase scene that gives Chris Brown and director John Luessenhop a chance to demonstrate some panache, but it goes on too long. A big shoot-out scene in slow motion with mournful music on the soundtrack is copied from much better movies. And there are elements taken from bad movies as well, like the cop who for no reason at all fails to call for back-up.

T.I. is not up to the pivotal role of “Ghost,” the member of the group who has just been released from prison and feels twice-wronged. Every time he takes center stage, the movie sags and his brief attempt at flamboyance — a quote from Genghis Khan — is just silly. His flat affect is intended to be cool and mysterious, but next to arresting performers like Idris Elba (getting a chance to use his real accent for once) and Marianne Jean-Baptiste, he seems to fade away. The only thing these takers really steal is your time.

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