This surreal and silly sequel to the hit 2015 comedy skates on the well-known but still-appealing comic personas of stars Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg and their zany chemistry.
Co-writer and director Sean Anders returns to helm the family comedy and doubles down on the dads. While milquetoast sweetie stepdad Brad (Ferrell) managed to exert his sensitive, progressive influence on tough guy Dusty (Wahlberg), it’s a whole new ballgame when their fathers come to town. Jon Lithgow is brilliantly cast as Brad’s dad, Don, aka Pop Pop, a chatty retired mailman with cookies in his pocket. Then there’s Dusty’s father, Kurt (Mel Gibson), who goes by “El Padre” with the kids and is a womanizing, virulently macho astronaut who keeps trying to give his grandchildren guns for Christmas.
The secret sauce that makes the “Daddy’s Home” films work is the strange brew of chemistry between Wahlberg and Ferrell. Wahlberg is his breathy, exasperated self, while Ferrell executes his naive oaf routine he does so well, lending his clumsy physicality to all manner of bodily injury, accidents and mishaps. Christmas, of course, lends itself well to the repeated power tool gags that Brad gets into, with snow blowers and lights and chainsaws and cellphone towers.
With the added dads around, those antics become frantic. The mania produced by four warring dads, two moms and several precocious kids means the film almost never stops to breathe or let a bit run its full course. There’s a genius thermostat dad joke that would have been that much funnier with more time, but the film zips through jokes and plot points to fit them all in.
Lithgow’s character is so delightfully conceived and performed with many tiny perfect details that Don practically deserves a spinoff sitcom. The soft underbelly of the “Daddy’s Home” movies is celebrating softer male emotion and sensitivity, and Don is the perfect representation of how that makes people around him feel warm and happy. That progressive idea needs a foil, something to bump up against, which is represented by the toxic, macho swagger of Kurt. The casting of Gibson is pretty perfect for that, but you have to wonder if he’s totally in on the joke.
Kurt is the villain of the film, encouraging violence between the dads and aggressive sexuality on little Dylan (Owen Vaccaro), who has his first crush. He gives obviously egregiously bad advice, urging his grandson to kiss the girl he likes and “smack her on the caboose.” But the film wants to have it both ways, playing it for laughs. The casual sexual harassment incites groans instead (Gibson’s background doesn’t help). While Brad lectures on the “friend zone,” he manages to skip actually talking about consent.
“Daddy’s Home 2” has its highs and lows. There are moments when it’s deliriously silly and delightful, and others where it misses the mark, lacking the consistency of the first film. And while at times it feels like too many dads, they eventually all learn to “co-dad,” in some kind of harmony.
In the stand-alone films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Thor always seemed to get the short end of the stick. The Thor films were never as popular as Iron Man, and didn't gain steam like Captain America. They were perhaps a little too serious and a little too dull — none of which was the fault of star Chris Hemsworth, whose performances in the role have been so seamless and charming that he almost doesn't get enough credit.
But "Thor: Ragnarok" has been touted as a different take on the God of Thunder. Marvel Studios and The Walt Disney Co. signed up a voice-y director in New Zealand's Taika Waititi, whose riotous vampire mockumentary "What We Do In The Shadows" displayed a unique comedic sensibility. They took away Thor's hammer, gave him a haircut, added some Led Zeppelin and told the set designer the more neon rainbows the better.
The results are pretty decent, though perhaps not the total departure that had been hyped.
The bones of the story are preposterous as ever. It turns out Thor has a long lost older sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), who his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins, who appears to have shot for about two hours) locked away because she was so dangerous. An event happens that releases Hela to the world. She's really strong, like stronger than Thor strong, and really angry and basically punches Thor into another dimension and she heads off to Asgard to take the throne.
The movie literally splits in two at this point. Poor Blanchett, who has gone full vamp as Hela, is good as always but how lame it must be to be in the "fun" Thor movie and have to play one of the most blandly written villains ever. While she's off waging her deathly serious takeover, Thor gets to join an irreverent comedy sideshow on the planet Sakaar — a sort of wasteland at the end of the universe run by a Grade-A weirdo who calls himself Grandmaster, played, fittingly, by Jeff Goldblum.
It's this section that is pretty amusing and where Waititi's irreverence really gets to shine with pratfalls and witty writing. It's no surprise that this is right up Goldblum's alley, but the real delight is Hemsworth who knows just how to subvert the Thor character without turning him into a total mockery. He's a real comedic talent, which audiences got a taste of in "Ghostbusters." And Tessa Thompson is fantastic as Valkyrie, a hard drinkin' fighter with a secret past she'd rather forget.
I imagine "Thor: Ragnarok" is one that might improve on subsequent viewings, when you have a chance to relax with the jokes divorced from the pressure of juggling the silly/serious plot. But it's a fairly flawed movie on the whole with egregious tonal shifts. Some of the gags go on too long with the Hulk with too little payoff and sometimes it seems as though there's a mandate that every 25 minutes there will be a big fight no matter what. One particular army of the dead sequence seemed like it could have been lifted from a "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie — which is not the most flattering comparison.
While Waititi's energy and wit is apparent in the film, it still feels as though he had to operate from the same Marvel "base flavor" and was allowed on occasion to sprinkle a few of his own original toppings on.
"Thor: Ragnarok" is the most fun of the Thor movies by a long shot, but it is still very much a Thor movie for better or worse.
"Thor," a Walt Disney Studios release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for "intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material." Running time: 130 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
MPAA Definition of PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
Kenneth Branagh's "Murder on the Orient Express " is a visual feast, bursting with movie stars, glamour and production value so high, you might just exit the theater experiencing some time-warp whiplash. Certainly no studio would make a straightforward, classical whodunit with a budget the size of a modest superhero pic (and no superheroes to speak of) nowadays, you think. What year is this anyway?
But against all odds and logic, here we have, in the waning days of 2017, a perfectly decent adaptation of Agatha Christie's 1934 novel with the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench and Branagh himself lighting up the big screen and chewing the decadent scenery like old-fashioned stars.
Branagh plays the lead, Hercule Poirot, a dandy Belgian detective with a gloriously over-the-top mustache who can only see the world as it should be. Imperfections, he says, stand out, whether it's two soft-boiled eggs that are of different sizes or, you know, the kind of incongruities that make it immediately obvious to him who has committed a crime. This is all laid out quite neatly in a lively opening sequence at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem where he theatrically solves a theft in front of a crowd of locals on the verge of rioting.
Chance brings him aboard the Orient Express, which should really have its own credit in the film, where he meets an odd group of strangers — a sultry widow (Pfeiffer), a secretive governess (Daisy Ridley), the doctor whom she pretends to not know (Leslie Odom Jr.), a gangster-like art dealer (Depp), his valet (Derek Jacobi) and his bookkeeper (Josh Gad), a princess (Dench) and her maid (Olivia Coleman), a religious zealot (Cruz), a volatile dancer (Sergei Polunin) and his sick wife (Lucy Boynton), a German professor (Willem Dafoe) and a count (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). And then one of them dies — there's at least a chance someone reading doesn't yet know who — and everyone remaining becomes a suspect.
Got all that?
Don't worry. It's more than a little overwhelming to keep track of who's who in this bunch and quite a few get the short shrift. But it's still fun enough to see Depp hamming it up with a thick New York accent, Pfeiffer vamping around the train's hallways and Branagh careening between giddy parody and self-seriousness as a man who delights in a well-constructed pastry and a good turn-of-phrase from Charles Dickens but can't seem to comprehend moral ambiguity in the slightest.
Unfortunately, the movie loses its steam right when the intrigue is supposed to be taking over. The discovery process isn't nearly as fun or engaging as it should be, and despite the energetic start, the film becomes a bit of a slog waiting for the big answer (for those who already know it, either from the source material, Sidney Lumet's 1974 film or any of the other adaptations, this might be even more tedious).
Branagh certainly steals scenes as Poirot, but the director might have taken some more time to ensure that all of his characters were given as loving a treatment as his own, or the setting, which is truly quite splendid to behold and even makes up for some of the deficiencies of the storytelling.
As odd as it might sound, it is somewhat refreshing to sit in a theater and watch a grand scale production that's not set in space or predetermined by the pages in a comic book. Then it goes and mucks it all up by leaving the door conspicuously open for a sequel.
"Murder on the Orient Express," a 20th Century Fox release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for "for violence and thematic elements." Running time: 114 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
MPAA Definition of PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
In “A Bad Moms Christmas,” it’s double the moms, double the bad.
Last time around, a year and change ago, the “Bad Moms” were just a trio of Wine Moms — Amy (Mila Kunis), Kiki (Kristen Bell) and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) — letting loose with some shots while letting go of perfectionism.
Now their moms — Ruth (Christine Baranski), Sandy (Cheryl Hines) and Isis (Susan Sarandon) — are in town for the holidays, and we’ve got a veritable cornucopia of naughty mommies.
“Bad Moms”: now with more emotional manipulation.
The existential plight of the Wine Mom — who seeks relief from the crushing weight of heteronormative capitalist patriarchy at the bottom of a chardonnay bottle — is a real cultural crisis. Someone should shine a light on this, but co-writers and co-directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore are not those storytellers. Mostly because one has to wonder if Lucas and Moore have ever even met human women. These characters are cartoonish campy drag personae of women, categorized by their attributes, like Santa’s reindeer or the Smurfs: Stressy, Crazy, Slutty, Critical, Clingy and Drifter.
Kunis stars as Amy, always harried, always “busy.” She’s divorced with a couple of kids (Oona Laurence and Emjay Anthony), whom she warily apprises, as if she’s not quite sure who they are or why they’re in her house. She shares the same chemistry with Baranski and Peter Gallagher, who play her parents, treating them like a couple of wayward strangers.
With her gal pals, it’s all forced fun, loud laughing, cheers-ing and declarations of “let’s take back Christmas!”
“Bad Moms” seemed to spring from a single inspirational scene, with the rest of the movie written around it (moms going crazy at a house party), and “A Bad Moms Christmas” takes the same approach. So when the “twerking on Santa” sequence is over within the first 10 minutes, the film is adrift, filled with so much tedious male stripper filler material. It’s the “Bad Moms” Meet “Magic Mike” Holiday Extravaganza, only with truly ghastly dancing.
“A Bad Moms Christmas” is a poorly gift-wrapped Pinterest fail of a movie. The Scotch tape in the equation, bravely straining to hold things together, are the emphatic line deliveries, made to trick us into thinking lines that are not jokes are, actually, jokes. The bows and trim, attempting to distract from obvious seams, are the endless slow-motion montages of mayhem set to pop tunes.
Baranski is wonderfully sharp as the monstrous Type A 1 percenter Ruth, and she does get a few amazing lines (“those ornaments are from the Titanic! That ice is from the moon! Moon ice!” she shrieks, as she and her daughter symbolically tussle over a Christmas tree). Hines is also delightfully surreal as the overprotective Sandy. Hahn is always the best around, but you can’t help but internally scream “this is beneath you!” almost every moment she’s on screen.
What’s offensive about “A Bad Moms Christmas” (and “Bad Moms”) is just how shoddily made it is. Female audiences deserve better movies than this. Furthermore, it positions the enemies of moms as other moms — not the rigidly gendered social structures and expectations that demand women do the majority of the domestic and emotional labor. Rather than men or money being the enemy, it’s other women, and that’s not fair. Here’s to hoping for “A Bad Moms Revolution” as the final installment.
‘BAD MOMS CHRISTMAS’
Cast: Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Christine Baranski, Susan Sarandon, Cheryl Hines
Directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes
Rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, and some drug use.
“Geostorm” finds ways to draw attention away from an interesting use of weather as a weapon by using a cold front of political jabber.
The problems in “Geostorm” were caused by director Dean Devlin and co-writer Paul Guyot as they have taken a passable action film and buried it under a tsunami of political muck. Politics can work – even in an action movie – but each smart twist needs to be followed by an even smarter turn. Both Devlin and Guyot have worked heavily in television and their writing comes across like the half-baked plot lines of a low-grade TV show.
Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler) is the creative mastermind behind the development of an interconnected series of satellites positioned around the planet in such a way that can be used to stop severe weather from hurricanes to heatwaves. It wouldn’t be a role for Butler if he wasn’t playing a character who has no time for authority figures. His snippy attitude goes too far and it finally gets him fired as the main man at the International Space Station where the weather controlling system known as Dutch Boy is run. The name comes from the story of the boy who stuck his finger in a damn until repairs could be made.
There would be no movie if everything was blues skies and sunshine. After a couple of freak accidents result in major catastrophes, it’s decided that Lawson’s the only person who can make the quick jaunt into space to find the problem and correct it before more bad weather arrives. No one needs another sub-zero event like the one in Afghanistan that turned an entire village into a tribute to Disney’s “Frozen.”
Of course, the guy who has to convince Lawson to take the job is his brother, Max (Jim Sturgess). He just happens to be the person who fired Lawson three years ago. The brothers haven’t spoken in years but Lawson is willing to take the challenge because he feels so connected to Dutch Boy.
As Lawson and his odd team try to find the problem, Max and his secret girlfriend, Secret Service agent Sarah Wilson (Abbie Cornish), must deal with the political elements that are little more than recycled plot points. Is the president corrupt? Who can be trusted? Why is there no security for Air Force One? Are all politicians so stupid they think no one will be that upset with billions of people being killed by deadly weather patterns created by a system under the control of the United States government?
The ending is so loaded with overwrought political rhetoric that even a massive tidal wave couldn’t wash away the hackneyed dialogue and unbelievable actions.
“Geostorm” would have been better had it been more like the 2004 release “The Day After Tomorrow.” No one carried about politics or big conspiracies in that Dennis Quaid movie. It entertained by putting people in peril from a new Ice Age.
That would have worked here. The action scenes in “Geostorm” are strong from a dramatic space walk by Butler’s character to a sudden blast of frigid cold on a Rio beach that freezes sun worshippers in their tracks. The weather woes around the world are slow to show up but when they do, they hit like a hurricane.
Butler makes the space station action work because he brings the same kind of bravado to his performance that he used in “London Has Fallen,” “Olympus Has Fallen,” “300” and even the forgettable “Gods of Egypt.” He’s a blue-collar hero who is driven by only one force – a promise he made to his 13-year-old daughter (Talitha Eliana Bateman) that he would come back from space. If he can save the world in the meantime, all the better.
The problem is that the film keeps slowing down for the political moments. There often is this kind of problem when a director works from his own script. Even with a co-writer, there needed to be another voice.
2.5 out of 4 stars
Cast: Gerard Butler, Andy Garcia, Jim Sturgess, Abbie Cornish, Talitha Eliana Bateman, Ed Harris
Ratings by the Motion Picture Association of America are: (G) for general audiences; (PG) parental guidance urged because of material possibly unsuitable for children; (PG-13) parents are strongly cautioned to give guidance for attendance of children younger than 13; (R) restricted, younger than 17 admitted only with parent or adult guardian; (NC-17) no one 17 and younger admitted.
(Critics’ Choices capsule reviews are by Kenneth Turan (K.Tu.), Justin Chang (J.C.) and other reviewers. Openings compiled by Kevin Crust.)
OPENING IN HOLLYWOOD THIS WEEK
“Amanda & Jack Go Glamping” — Romantic comedy about a writer and his wife trying to jump-start their marriage in nature. With David Arquette, Amy Acker, June Squibb. Written and directed by Brandon Dickerson. Gravitas Ventures
“Art Show Bingo” — A painter is tormented by his twin brother, an aggressive documentary filmmaker. With James Maslow, Lillian Solange Beaudoin, Ella Lentini. Written by Emile Husson, Matthew Fine. Directed by Fine. Indie Rights
“Bad Grandmas” — Four elderly women accidentally kill a con man and must deal with his partner. With Florence Henderson, Pam Grier, Randall Batinkoff, Judge Reinhold. Written by Srikant Chellappa, Jack Snyder. Directed by Chellappa. Parade Deck Films
“Bill Nye: Science Guy” — Documentary chronicles Nye’s efforts to advance science through education and advocacy. Featuring Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Ann Dryan, Ken Ham, Joe Bastardi. Directed by David Alvarado & Jason Sussberg. PBS Distribution
“A Bride for Rip Van Winkle” — Surreal tale of a lonely teacher who meets a man online and quickly falls into a web of deception. With Haru Kuroki, Go Ayano, Cocco. Written and directed by Shunji Iwai, based on his novel. Eleven Arts
“Daddy’s Home 2” — Sensitive stepdad Will Ferrell and macho dad Mark Wahlberg return in this sequel to the 2015 comedy, this time dealing with the arrival of their own fathers just in time for Christmas. With Linda Cardellini, John Cena, John Lithgow, Mel Gibson. Written by Sean Anders & John Morris, based on characters created by Brian Burns. Directed by Anders. Paramount Pictures
“Destination Unknown” — Twelve Holocaust survivors share their stories through interviews, home movies and archival footage in this documentary. Directed by Claire Ferguson. 7th Art Releasing
“Felicite” — A bar singer in the Congo must raise money for her son’s operation. With Vero Tshanda, Beya Mputu, Papi Mpaka, Gaetan Claudia. Written by Alain Gomis, in collaboration with Olivier Loustau, Delphine Zingg. Directed by Gomis. Strand Releasing
“Frank Serpico” — Documentary on the former NYPD officer who uncovered corruption in the department in the late 1960s and ‘70s and was played by Al Pacino in the Sidney Lumet movie based on his life. Directed by Antonio D’Ambrosio. NR. Sundance Selects
“Gilbert” — Documentary on the life and comedy of Gilbert Gottfried. Directed by Neil Berkeley. Gravitas Ventures
“Intent to Destroy: Death, Denial & Depiction” — Historians, scholars and high-profile filmmakers explore the Armenian genocide in this documentary. Featuring Terry George, Paul Boghossian, Fatma Muge Gocek, Eric Bogosian. Written by Joe Berlinger, Cy Christiansen. Directed by Berlinger. Survival Pictures
“It Happened in L.A.” — A married woman and her single friend find themselves dissatisfied romantically in the City of Angels. With Michelle Morgan, Jorma Taccone, Dree Hemingway, Kentucker Audley. Written and directed by Morgan. The Orchard
“Mayhem” — A fired employee battles back when his law firm’s building is quarantined after a mysterious virus unleashes wild behavior. With Steven Yeun, Samara Weaving, Steven Brand. Written by Matias Caruso. Directed by Joe Lynch. RJLE Films
“Murder on the Orient Express” — Kenneth Branagh directs and stars in a mystery that plays out on a train across Europe. With Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley. Written by Michael Green, based on the novel by Agatha Christie. 20th Century Fox
“Pottersville” — An alleged Bigfoot sighting turns a struggling town into a tourism mecca. With Christina Hendricks, Judy Greer, Ron Perlman, Michael Shannon, Ian McShane, Thomas Lennon. Written by Daniel Meyer. Directed by Seth Henrikson. SP Releasing
“The Price” — An ambitious young Nigerian American with a complicated life encounters temptation in his job on Wall Street. With Aml Ameen, Lucy Griffiths, Bill Sage. Written and directed by Anthony Onah. Samuel Goldwyn Films
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” — Frustrated by the lack of progress in her daughter’s murder case, a woman publicly challenges the local police department. With Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, Lucas Hedges, Zeljko Ivanek, Caleb Landry Jones, Clarke Peters, Samara Weaving, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh. Fox Searchlight
“Battle of the Sexes” — This enjoyable and entertaining film, with the gifted and innately likable actors Emma Stone and Steve Carell as Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, is most involving when it deals not with sports or society, but with the personal struggles both players, especially King, were going through in the run-up to their 1973 tennis match. (K.Tu.) PG-13.
“Blade Runner 2049” — You can quibble with aspects of it, but as shaped by Denis Villeneuve and his masterful creative team, this high-end sequel puts you firmly and unassailably in another world of its own devising, and that is no small thing. (K.Tu.) R.
“Faces Places” — A participatory art project takes director Agnes Varda and photographer-artist JR on a tour of the French countryside in this wonderful documentary, which, like Varda’s other personal essays, becomes an exquisite trip down memory lane. (J.C.) PG.
“The Florida Project” — Absorbing us in the day-to-day rhythms of life at a dumpy Florida motel complex, home to a wildly spirited 6-year-old girl named Moonee (the startling Brooklynn Prince), Sean Baker (“Tangerine”) goes to a place few of us know and emerges with a masterpiece of empathy and imagination. (J.C.) R.
“The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” — Funny, moving and psychologically complex, this is writer-director Noah Baumbach’s latest foray into the intricate paradoxes of dysfunctional family dynamics, and, starring Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller, it ranks with his best. (K.Tu.) NR.
“Novitiate” — A hit at Sundance and already nominated for a Gotham breakthrough director award, this drama about the emotional content of nuns’ lives in the mid-1960s sure-handedly takes us inside the world of belief with care, concern and a piercing, discerning eye. (K.Tu.) R.
“The Square” — A Stockholm museum curator (Claes Bang) undergoes a crisis of conscience in Swedish writer-director Ruben Ostlund’s sprawling, virtuoso satire of the modern art world, which won the Palme d’Or at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. (J.C.) R.