Movie Review ~ The Best of Enemies


The Facts
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Synopsis: Civil Rights activist, Ann Atwater, faces off against C.P. Ellis, Exalted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan in 1971 Durham, North Carolina over the issue of school integration.

Stars: Taraji P. Henson, Sam Rockwell, Anne Heche, Wes Bentley, John Gallagher Jr., Bruce McGill

Director: Robin Bissell

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 133 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: The filmmakers for Green Book haven’t even had their Best Picture Oscar on the shelf long enough to gather dust before another problematic movie on race relations has made it to theaters. Now I have a feeling that The Best of Enemies tells its tale with a bit more honesty and is unquestionably less outright manipulative but still…something feels off here. Though, like Green Book, it boasts two likable stars (one a recent Oscar winner) and is based on actual events, The Best of Enemies overstays its welcome by hammering home its message audiences will have received loud and clear early on.

It’s 1971 and Durham, North Carolina is still racially divided. Though laws on desegregation have chipped away at the antiquated restrictions at many institutions within the state, the schools remain separated by race. Continuing to fight for her civil rights and the rights of others was the outspoken Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson, What Men Want), a grassroots activist that wasn’t afraid to raise her voice to call attention to injustice within her community. On the other side of the coin was Ku Klux Klan leader C. P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell, Vice) who also felt like he was seeing the rights of another population of Durham being restricted. The two public figures were both respected within their individual circles and known to each other…and they didn’t care for the other one bit.

When a fire destroys part of a school that served the black children of Durham, it sparks a debate that leads to the city council voting whether or not to allow children of both races to attend the same school. At the same time, a court-ordered school desegregation decree has finally come into play but instead of being the deciding vote and making history, the district judge involved passes the decision down to the people of Durham. Through a structured two-week community meeting known as a charrette, Atwater and Ellis become co-chairs and lead a group of representatives from the city in deciding how they want to move forward on several key issues, the biggest being fully integrating their schools.

Writer/director Robin Bissell (a producer of The Hunger Games) has adapted Osha Gray Davidson’s book and while it’s clearly a labor of love, it is quite a labor to get through. At two hours and thirteen minutes, the movie takes a while to get moving and then just sort of treads water for a good sixty minutes rehashing what we already know or setting up more scenes of racial tension designed to elicit the appropriate rage from the audience. By the time the film reaches it’s predicted climax, audiences might be a bit numb after all the elevated dramatics Bissell introduces.

The saving grace of the movie lies in the casting and it starts at the top with Henson and Rockwell. Both are actors that invest themselves fully into their roles and that’s certainly the case here. Though Henson is sporting an almost comically large fake set of breasts, she brings a dignity and strength of soul to Ann who wrestles with wanting to practice what she preaches about acceptance even when the person on the other side won’t look her in the face. You may think Rockwell has played a version of this character already in his Oscar-winning role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri but the differences between the two men are vast. At the beginning of the film Ellis actually believes in the racist thoughts he spews forth but Rockwell takes us through each crack in his belief system as he spends time not only with the black members of Durham but other white people that don’t share his values.

There’s nice supporting work from Anne Heche (Volcano) as Ellis’ wife who doesn’t suffer fools…especially her husband, Wes Bentley (Interstellar) as the prototype KKK member of that era in that area, and Bruce McGill (Lincoln) as a crooked councilman. I also liked John Gallagher Jr. (10 Cloverfield Lane) as a local shopowner sympathetic to the integration that has to choose between what’s right for him and what’s right for his community. He shares a brief scene with Rockwell that hints at the kind of impactful moments the movie is sorely short on. Yet the film never takes off quite so much as when Henson and Rockwell are bickering or, eventually, seeing eye to eye.

Conceived as a historical piece documenting an important turning point in the Civil Rights movement but orchestrated as an audience rousing drama where everyone goes home happy, The Best of Enemies wants it both ways. It tries awfully hard, though, and that work doesn’t go unnoticed. Yet it winds up feeling like another strange misstep in Hollywood’s attempt to get a movie about the Civil Rights…right.

Movie Review ~ The Upside

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: A comedic look at the relationship between a wealthy man with quadriplegia and an unemployed man with a criminal record who’s hired to help him.

Stars: Bryan Cranston, Kevin Hart, Nicole Kidman, Genevieve Angelson, Aja Naomi King, Julianna Margulies

Director: Neil Burger

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 125 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: I’m going to level with you and let you know that for the most part remakes are just not my cup of tea.  I just don’t see the point of the exercise so unless you are going to go your own way (hello, Suspiria), then I’d rather filmmakers spend their time on creating new work.  Don’t even get me started on American remakes of foreign films, just another way Hollywood plays into the notion that audiences won’t sit for two hours reading subtitles.  Box office notwithstanding, there are but a few examples where an English film has surpassed its international counterpart but there are times when a movie makes the leap over the ocean to our shores without tarnishing our good memories of the original.

Thankfully, The Upside is an example of the happy path a film can take when translated and it has arrived in theaters by the skin of its teeth, nearly lost indefinitely due to a controversy within its production house that delayed its release for nearly a year.  Originally set to be distributed by The Weinstein Company, when the scandal involving Harvey Weinstein sent waves through Hollywood their slate of films set for release were canned and sold off to other studios.  It’s unfortunate The Upside suffered under this melee because, while imperfect, it’s largely an audience pleasing dramedy that feels like the kind of critic-proof feel-gooder that could be a sleeper hit if audiences bite.

Based on Olivier Nakache & Éric Toledano’s The Intouchables from 2011, this is a fairly faithful adaptation of the original work with some modifications that I felt were improvements…but more on that later.  The set-up is still the same: mega-millionaire Phillip (Bryan Cranston, Trumbo) is a quadriplegic looking for a new care-giver who chooses recent parolee Dell (Kevin Hart, The Wedding Ringer) against the advice of his executive (Nicole Kidman, Boy Erased) because he’s the least qualified for the job.  The two are a mismatched pair with Aretha Franklin loving Dell clashing with opera-fan Phillip in fairly benign ways.  As Dell learns more about responsibility after largely being absent from his own son’s life and Phillip gets a new lease on living via Dell’s tough love methods, the two form exactly the bond you expect but don’t arrive there in quite the way you’d think.

Director Neil Burger (Divergent) and screenwriter Jon Hartmere have tinkered with the story, removing some of the more white savior-esque moments from the original which just wouldn’t have gone over well in this age where everything is under a different microscope.  Dell is more of a fleshed out character than his French counterpart was, there’s less imposed upon him but rather he is the driving force in many of the key developments of the movie.  There’s also an interesting splitting of one character into two (kinda) and the insertion of a tense scene between Phillip and woman played by Julianna Margulies (Ghost Ship).  With movies like Green Book running afoul of the PC police, I feel The Upside slides by largely without incident.  In the end I guess you could unfairly boil it down to it being about a rich white guy somewhat educating, and by proxy being educated by, a poor black man but the movie rises above that antiquated trope largely on the strength of its casting.

We talk a lot about chemistry in the movies and how hard it is to come by and it’s clear at this point that Hart can create chemistry with just about any costar you put him with.  Cranston has his moments as well but Hart is what really fuels the film even when it teeters into preachy schmaltz or cornball familiar territory.  He’s dialed his routine down a few notches but that hasn’t diminished his delivery or screen energy.  It’s not hard to see why there was early buzz on his performance being a bit of a revelation.  Confined to a wheelchair and not able to move his extremities, Cranston can only use his face to sell the scenes and it turns out that restraint works wonders for coming across less earnest.  Though saddled with a wig that always seems like it needed to be brushed, Kidman’s tightly wound exec gets to cut loose a few times, though some developments later in the film feel a tad underdeveloped (if not wholly underwritten).

It’s surprising to me how popular The Intouchables remains seven years after its release.  It was the second biggest film in France that year and last time I checked it was #40 on IMDb’s list of Top 250 films…ahead of Back to the Future and Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I quite liked the film that inspired The Upside and was surprised at how easy this remake went over with not just me but the audience I screened it with.  The laughs were where they should be and, as expected, when the credits rolled it was met with enthusiastic applause.  This says to me that audiences won’t be swayed by critics thumbing their nose at this decently entertaining buddy film.  I’d still suggest watching the original but if you’ve given that one a spin then there’s no downside to seeking out The Upside.

Movie Review ~ Second Act

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The Facts
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Synopsis: A big box store worker reinvents her life and her life-story and shows Madison Avenue what street smarts can do.

Stars: Jennifer Lopez, Leah Remini, Vanessa Hudgens, Treat Williams, Milo Ventimiglia

Director: Peter Segal

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 103 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: There’s a feeling you get while watching Second Act that you’ve been magically transported back to the early 2000s when movie studios were still making mid-range comedies that weren’t based on a comic book or an established franchise.  This was a time when a 30 million-dollar movie could get greenlit on star power alone and make its money back in the opening weekend before going on to enjoy a healthy life with repeat viewings on cable or well-worn DVDs.  Alas, this is 2018 and even if Second Act isn’t the same kind of slam-dunk destined for repeat viewings guilty pleasure we want it to be, it’s certainly a nice blast of nostalgia with several modern twists that keep it interesting.

When she misses out on a big promotion at her Wal-Mart-ish job she more than deserves that coincides with a milestone birthday, Maya (Jennifer Lopex, The Boy Next Door, radiant as ever) is feeling down in the dumps.  Though comforted by her best friend Joan (Leah Remini) and boyfriend Trey (Milo Ventimiglia, Kiss of the Damned) she can’t get over the fact that just because she doesn’t have a college degree it means she can’t advance in her career even if she has earned it.  Thanks to Joan’s whiz-kid son, with a little fancy internet tweaking and resume fudging Maya lands and interview and eventual consulting job with a beauty company in New York City.

I’m going to stop right there because that’s what the previews for Second Act have told you and it’s better if I let you see for yourself how the story develops.  Let it be known that Second Act isn’t exactly the movie it has marketed itself to be (sorry ladies, an early shirtless Ventimiglia scene is the closest you’re going to get to romantic territory) and that’s not entirely a bad thing.  You can see why Lopez, who scored so many early hits in the rom-com genre got the script for this and found it to be worthy of her time and producing effort.  It’s formulaic as all get-out but it works in ways that surprised me more than I thought it would.

Playing to its target audience by sending Maya on a Cinderella-esque story from rags to riches (with stops at all the major designer stores along the way) and putting her up in a swanky NYC apartment, the only thing screenwriters Justin Zackham and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas don’t give Maya is much of a personality.  Lopez sells the material well but Maya is often the passive viewer in her own life story, acquiescing to the wishes of others and not standing up for herself.  Case in point, though she has told him over and over again she wants to advance in her career Ventimiglia’s character keeps giving her a guilt trip about delaying starting a family — why doesn’t Maya ever say “No, dude, I don’t want to start a family…I’m 40 years old and want to be an executive!”  In all honesty, the entire Ventimiglia storyline could be excised without losing anything major…except for a small sampling of its female demographic.

Director Peter Segal (Grudge Match) doesn’t do anything special from a technical perspective but he gets the right people in the room and lets the charm of the collective hive carry the movie through some of the cheesier fare.  Aside from Lopez (who seems to change into one glorious costume/hairstyle every 30 seconds), Remini scores a win as Maya’s smart-acre sidekick (you can absolutely tell the two are besties in real life) and I got a kick out of Annaleigh Ashford (Frozen), Charlyne Yi (The Disaster Artist), and Alan Aisenberg as Maya’s coworkers who bring their own comedic oddities to their screen time.  Only Vanessa Hudgens (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) as Maya’s corporate rival struggles to stay convincing, though Lopez tends to elevate her anytime they share a scene.

With so many movies out this holiday season, I’m guessing this isn’t going to make that big of a dent in the box office but will likely find a better audience when it’s available to watch at home.  It likely will play better on the smaller screen, too, and might have even made a bigger splash as, say, a Netflix original film.  Still, for those like me who mourn the death of these types of smaller genre films Second Act is a nice reminder that they don’t make ‘em like they used to.

Movie Review ~ The Happytime Murders


The Facts
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Synopsis: When the puppet cast of an ’80s children’s TV show begin to get murdered one by one, a disgraced LAPD detective-turned-private eye puppet takes on the case.

Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph, Joel McHale, Leslie David Baker, Bill Barretta, Dorien Davies, Kevin Klash

Director: Brian Henson

Rated: R

Running Length: 91 minutes

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: Continuing the entertainment industry’s penchant for turning the sweet and cuddly into rude and raunchy, The Happytime Murders comes from none other than the son of Jim Henson, creator of The Muppets. Brian Henson grew up in Muppet-land and even directed Muppet Treasure Island and the enduring chestnut that is The Muppet Christmas Carol. Like a former child star that decides to pose in Playboy, Henson wants to show us all how grown up he is by pandering to the lowest common denominator, not just in jokes but in filmmaking. The results is a gross, stupid movie that elicits a few shocked laughs but more often than not earns a somber silence.

At the screening I attended for The Happytime Murders there was a problem with the projection and they had to stop the film about five minutes in. This turned out to be a blessing. Not only did it get rid of the foreign language subtitles that had been mistakenly turned on but it also gave audiences a chance to see what a second viewing of the movie might be like.  And it wasn’t pretty.  The first time a puppet swore, there was a huge reaction from the crowd. When a female puppet said something repulsively filthy, you could hear shrieks of stunned cackles. Then the movie stopped to fix the issue and they started it from the beginning. The next time these same jokes came around not ten minutes later, there were light titters but the odd feeling we knew it wasn’t truly funny the first time.

Aping on the classic film noir, the film follows disgraced cop turned private investigator Phil Philips (voiced by Bill Barretta, Muppets Most Wanted) as he teams up with his former partner (Melissa McCarthy, The Boss) to solve a series of murders. All the victims were members of a popular kids show, the first of its kind to show puppets and humans on equal ground, even though in reality puppets are seen as second-class citizens humans can do whatever they want with. At the same time, Phillips gets tangled up with a femme fatale client (voiced by Dorien Davies) being blackmailed who has more than her fair share of skeletons in the closet.

The set-up is not so far afield from the likes of Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett but I doubt either writer could have ever thought they’d be mentioned in a review about trampy puppets that secrete, excrete, and swear like sailors. Screenwriter Todd Berger’s weary script resurrects ‘90s-era groaners in between languid exposition and tired twists. Any audience member that’s watched a police procedural in the last three decades will be able to spot the killer and figure out their motive long before our hero does.

There’s probably no point in poking holes in the logic here but I’m going to give it a go. The way that Berger and Henson see it, puppets are little more than socks filled with fluff so it’s easy to watch them get torn up, blown up, or wrung out without cringing too much. Yet at the same time we’re led to believe that a human can receive an organ transplant from a puppet that supposedly isn’t made of any kind of tissue and just how are these puppets popping out Easter eggs when frightened or ejaculating silly string when excited? If they aren’t more than stuffing, where is the glitter pee coming from? I won’t even get into the scene set in a sex shop that features an octopus doing terrible things with their eight arms to a ecstatic cow.

Poor McCarthy, she’s regressing right back into the gutter humor that did her no favors in films like This is 40 and Tammy. While she’s made a bid in the last few years for respect with Spy and Life of the Party, here she’s slumming it once again and apparently without much arm-twisting. This is a tired performance from an actress that usually shows boundless energy. The same sorrow can be felt for Maya Rudolph (Inherent Vice) who gives great moll but is stuck delivering her lines to a puppet – it’s a lot of energy being spent for absolutely no result. Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect 3) another actress like McCarthy that has experience with ribald comedy, deserves some sort of award for sportsmanship for the scene where she peels a carrot in order to sexually excite a trio of rabbits.  Proving he’s definitely no movie star once and for all, Joel McHale (Blended) pops up as a grimacing FBI agent and manages to miss every potential laugh.

The most shocking thing about the movie is that, based on the audience I saw the film with, parents actually are considering it OK to bring their kids. This is nowhere near an acceptable film for anyone under 17 and this is coming from someone who saw a heap of inappropriate films in the theater before I was old enough to drive. Parents…please, don’t bring your kids to this. YOU don’t even have to go…and, in fact, you shouldn’t.

Movie Review ~ Molly’s Game


The Facts
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Synopsis: The true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI target

Stars: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Chris O’Dowd, Rachel Skarsten

Director: Aaron Sorkin

Rated: R

Running Length: 140 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: There’s some good fun to be had in Molly’s Game, a true story based on the bestselling novel that’s been adapted by award-winning writer Aaron Sorkin…but sadly the good time doesn’t last.  It’s not that Bloom’s life isn’t a fascinating character study because her rise and fall tale is so outrageous it’s hard to believe it’s all true.  There’s value in seeing a woman rightfully taking a piece of the pie in a traditionally male fronted field but under Sorkin’s sleepy eye as a first-time director he can’t find the same type of balance that’s propelled his previous screenplays into first-class features.

It’s easy to see what drew Sorkin and his star Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) to this project.  Bloom was a former skier on her way to the Olympics tragically sidelined by a freak accident just as she was coming into her own.  Having trained her whole life for this pinnacle, she’s untethered without much to fall back on.  Her father (Kevin Costner, Man of Steel) always pushed her but never truly supported her and by the time she winds up crashing on the couch of a friend in Los Angeles, Bloom isn’t sure where her life is headed.

Making ends meet by waitressing and running bottle service in a popular LA hotspot, she connects with a man that offers her an office job.  This day job turns into a lucrative gig hosting weekly poker tournaments for the very rich and very famous in the backroom of a unassuming bar.  Building relationships and getting on the job training with each passing hand, Bloom makes the leap to running her own ritzy poker game and that’s when she realizes how high stakes her cash flow business has become.  Running afoul of a famous actor (a nicely nasty Michael Cera, This is The End) looking to profit off of her hard work, she moves the game to NYC all the while keeping things on the up and up.

Forced into making an illegal choice in order to protect her bottom line, Bloom loses everything and then gets arrested by the FBI in their crackdown of a gambling ring she was involved with that, unbeknownst to her, had mafia ties.  Enlisting the aid of a defense attorney (Idris Elba, Prometheus) she doesn’t entirely trust, Bloom has to decide whether to tell the FBI all she knows and avoid jail or keep her secrets safe and pay further penalties for decisions that weren’t entirely hers to make.

Sorkin’s dialogue is, as expected, laser sharp and barbed with the best of intentions.  He knows his way around a tricky turn of phrase and his script is filled with his trademark quick wit.  If only it had also been populated with real characters.  Save for Bloom (aided by Chastain’s fierce performance), all of the supporting players feel like alien creations of people pretending to be human.  It’s fine when one character has a sharp comeback or humorous exposition but when each and every person is battling to be the smartest in the room it all starts to get muddy.

Elba is usually a slam dunk in movies but here Sorkin has cast him as a caustic man trying to play a father figure to Bloom as well as his own daughter that he regularly assigns reading material to.  Instead of being a lawyer passing judgement on his client, Sorkin has him upbraiding her for her actions like she’s being reprimanded like a child and that feels a bit icky.  Same goes for Costner as Bloom’s real father, a typically Costner-esque creation that’s cool to the touch and rather unlovable.  He shows up again late in the film for a sequence that was so strange in its composition I kept waiting for it to be revealed it’s all in Bloom’s imagination.

The good news is that Sorkin has finally done something he hasn’t been great at before…writing for a woman.  His male-heavy scrips for television and film have also felt like they were deliberately excluding the fairer sex so perhaps Molly’s Game was a chance for him to challenge himself.  Working with Chastain helps a great deal, even if the movie could have been tightened by a full 20 minutes if the aforementioned Costner scene had been trimmed and other flashbacks excised.

A decent hand of adult entertainment for those not ready to commit to the history lesson of Darkest Hour, the pitch-black comedy of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, or those that find their screening of The Post is sold out, Molly’s Game might be created by a one-eyed Jack but it’s ruled by a commanding queen.

Movie Review ~ A Bad Moms Christmas


The Facts
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Synopsis: A Bad Moms Christmas follows our three under-appreciated and over-burdened women as they rebel against the challenges and expectations of the Super Bowl for moms: Christmas. And if creating a more perfect holidays for their families wasn’t hard enough, they have to do all of that while hosting and entertaining their own mothers.

Stars: Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Jay Hernandez, Christine Baranski, Susan Sarandon, Cheryl Hines, Peter Gallagher, Justin Hartley

Director: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore

Rated: R

Running Length: 104 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: It’s a good thing for the filmmakers of A Bad Moms Christmas that I’m not in charge of the naughty or nice list because it would be coal for all if I had my way. What a stupid piece of trash this one is, so lame-brained and barely breathing that I’m amazed it was produced and released at all. It exists for no one other than the tax write-off seeking producers and holiday cash starved actors willing to lower themselves to the level of writer/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (Office Christmas Party).  I didn’t care much for 2016’s Bad Moms (actually, I didn’t care for it at all) so when it became a sleeper summer hit and this holiday-themed sequel was fast-tracked I must admit I was curious to see what new shenanigans the ladies would get up to. Turns out it’s just more of the same inane antics that are really just barely-there ideas for vignettes weakly strung together to create a 104-minute film. A very long 104-minute film.

As in the original film, the lives of these women are scripted entirely by the male writer and directors and I’d love to hear what their moms and wives think about their take on the mother’s role in the Christmas season. Lucas and Moore seem to believe that all mothers hate the holidays because it’s nothing but endless amounts of work for them with no thanks and certainly no fun. They are forced to put up a tree, decorate the house, buy presents, wrap presents, cook, clean, host parties, and do it all with a fake smile plastered on their face. At least that’s how Mila Kunis’ Amy tells us it is as she narrates the opening of the film that shows the aftermath of the holidays.  As a camel saunters by, she promises to tell us how she wound up with her house destroyed.  Sigh…if we must.

Flashing back through the six days leading to Christmas, we meet up again with Amy, her children, and her new boyfriend (Jay Hernandez, Suicide Squad) as they prepare for the arrival of Amy’s shrill mother (Christine Baranski, Into the Woods) and milquetoast dad (Peter Gallagher, Hello, My Name is Doris). Across town, Kiki (Kristen Bell, Frozen) is surprised that her smother-mother (Cheryl Hines, Wilson) has showed up three days early while Carla (Kathryn Hahn, We’re the Millers) is shocked her free-wheelin’ mama (Susan Sarandon, Tammy) has showed up at all. Kunis (Ted), Bell, and Hahn share precious few scenes together with Lucas and Moore opening up their world a bit more now that they have more characters to juggle. That means kids and males are left in the dust as the moms and daughters work out their issues as the holidays get closer.

There’s so much to dislike about this movie. From the extremely long leash the filmmakers give the usually funny foul-mouthed Hahn to ham it up while waxing the testicles of a ‘sexy’ Santa (Justin Hartley, who we’re forced to watch poorly strip-tease THREE times during the course of the film), to the uncomfortably ugly way that Baranski and Kunis spar over everything from décor to holiday spirit, to Bell blindly ignoring the fact that her mom is maybe so clingy because she’s completely alone and has no friends of her own.

Straining to see some good, I will say that though Baranski has fashioned her entire career on playing these types of frigid shrews, she gets some of the best moments in the movie with her deadpan reactions and sharp comebacks. They even let her sing a bit during a too-long caroling scene that at least serves as an opportunity to bring back the sorely missed Christina Applegate (Vacation) for a brief cameo. I also enjoyed Sarandon’s crass take on an aging biker chick that barely realizes she’s a grandma and the best passage of the entire film is when all three moms gather together to work out their woes.

At the end of the first film there was an excellent scene during the credits where the actresses and their real moms were interviewed. It was by far the best part of that whole movie and I was halfway looking forward to something similar here. Unfortunately, all that’s available during the credits is an exhaustive dance sequence clumsily filmed against a green screen. It’s just another example of the hap-hazard filmmaking that brought A Bad Moms Christmas to our cinematic mantle. My advice would be to throw this one into the fire and ask Santa to bring you a real comedy for the holidays instead.

Movie Review ~ The Space Between Us

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The Facts
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Synopsis: The first human born on Mars travels to Earth for the first time, experiencing the wonders of the planet through fresh eyes. He embarks on an adventure with a street smart girl to discover how he came to be.

Stars: Gary Oldman, Asa Butterfield, Carla Gugino, Britt Robertson, BD Wong, Janet Montgomery

Director: Peter Chelsom

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 120 minutes

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: There’s going to be an easy litmus test as to how well you’ll enjoy The Space Between Us. If you can make it through the first five minutes without groaning and/or rolling your eyes than maybe, just maybe, this sci-fi adventure/teen romance will be worth your time. For everyone else, do yourself a solid and have a back-up movie prepared because as the film begins to lose all control of logic, tension, and interest the groans will just get louder and the eye rolls more strenuous.

In the vision of 2018 suggested by the movie, colonization of Mars is a reality and the first settlers are ready to blast off. Dubbed East Texas, the endeavor is the brainchild of Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) and serves as a chance to not only explore life on another planet but a chance for Shepherd to live out a childhood fantasy. Unable to physically make the journey due to an illness never fully defined, Shepherd voyeuristically watches the crew blast off and tracks their movements while big wigs from NASA (including an authoritative, if bored looking, B.D. Wong, Jurassic Park) keep an eye on the progress.

Early into the trip, mission leader Sarah Elliot (Janet Montgomery) discovers she’s pregnant but they’ve gone too far to turn back and she winds up having the baby shortly after arriving on the red planet, dying in childbirth. While the identity of the father isn’t immediately known, plenty of talking heads dub Sarah’s ‘behavior’ as inappropriate…making me wonder if the movie takes place in 2018 or 1968.

Flash forward 16 years and the baby has grown into angsty teen Gardner (Asa Butterfield, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children). Aside from a ramshackle robot (a stock character right down to his Brit accent and uppity demeanor), Gardner’s only real friend is Kendra (Carla Gugino, San Andreas) an astronaut that seems to have other responsibilities but is shown only as a well-educated babysitter. In between shifts in the colony greenhouse (leading me a first to be confused if Gardner was his name or his profession), Gardner chats up a lonely foster child (Britt Robertson, The Longest Ride) who doesn’t know her internet pen pal is literally from another planet.

Finding a clip from his mother’s personal items of a man that could be his father and driven in no small part by his developing libido, with Kendra’s help Gardner is eventually brought down to Earth. However, whatever freedom he thought he would have isn’t in the cards and he becomes a science experiment kept in quarantine. In short order, Gardner stages a daring escape and tracks down Tulsa who isn’t so happy her pal ditched her for 7 months while returning home through the stars. A cross-country chase ensues with Gardner and Tulsa hilariously pursued by Kendra and Nathaniel with all the conviction of a Looney Tunes cartoon. Along the way, secrets are revealed, love blooms, and every scene is written and performed like the cliffhanger final moments of a season finale.

On the performance spectrum, the range is anywhere from passively engaged to Gary Oldman. As a teen finding his Earth legs, Butterfield gets the gangly piece down…but unfortunately, Allan Loeb’s (Collateral Beauty) script sets him up first to be an introverted orphan in search of answers before switching it up to make him a romanticized dweeb that loses key brain cells in his new environment. On Mars, he’s marveling at the deeper context of Wim Wender’s Wings of Desire but on Earth he recoils in horror when he spots a horse trotting down the street. Gugino is typically dependable for a dose of grounded reality but paired with Oldman’s awkwardly earnest portrayal of a smarty-pants wunderkind, there’s no balance for either to find good footing. Also, Oldman can never decide if he’s from London or the Midwest. One moment his accent strains on the consonants and the next he’s practically demanding tea time. Robertson’s fairly one-note as a tough on the outside soft on the inside tomboy. It’s hinted she may have a talent for music but after plunking out a song on a keyboard at Sam’s Club, it’s never mentioned again.

Director Peter Chelsom doesn’t do much with the material either, moving actors and set pieces through a variety of hackneyed action sequences with little fanfare. He also isn’t able to inspire many sparks between Butterfield and Robertson, as both seem uncomfortably ill matched and kept together for the sake of the plot. Taking place in 2034, Chelsom’s spin on future living is delivered with little bells or whistles. Aside from some upgrades to personal computers and communication devices, teens still dress like hobos and no one is traveling around in flying cars.

Worth keeping your distance from, The Space Between Us was originally set for release in August and then pushed back again to December. Ostensibly, it was moved to the less busy pre-Valentine’s Day weekend with the hopes to attract some of the date night business for those unable to go for Fifty Shades Darker. Too light to stay Earthbound and too lackluster to be fueled by a mission to Mars, this misfire has no atmosphere to speak of.

Movie Review ~ Bad Moms

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The Facts
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Synopsis: When three overworked and under-appreciated moms are pushed beyond their limits, they ditch their conventional responsibilities for a jolt of long overdue freedom, fun, and comedic self-indulgence.

Stars: Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Jay Hernandez, Annie Mumolo, Jada Pinkett Smith, Christina Applegate, David Walton

Director: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore

Rated: R

Running Length: 101 minutes

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: Man, 2016 has just not been a great year for mom movies.  I’m barely over April’s otherworldly awful Mother’s Day (RIP Garry Marshall) and now Bad Moms has been plunked down on our cinematic doorstep like a heap of garbage.  Not only is the movie tone-deaf, stupid, tiring, and boring, but the way it squanders the talent of every single cast member is really something for the record books. Like the recent Ghostbusters reboot, here is a movie that doesn’t know what to do with its perfectly capable but script stymied stars.

The first hurdle to overcome is buying the fact that 32-year-old Mila Kunis (Ted) has a 12-year-old.  Yeah, I know mathematically it works but throughout the film when sharing scenes with her two awkward children (that look nothing like her in the slightest) she looks like their babysitter instead of their mom.

Kunis is Amy, a hard-working mother of two who manages to get everything done without any help from her slacker husband or her emotionally stunted (read: awful and spoiled) tykes.  In addition to her mom duties, her part-time job for a coffee company has her putting in 40+ hours a week.  So it’s easy to see why she’s just a tad stressed when Gwyneth, the head of the PTA (a disappointingly comatose Christina Applegate, Vacation) and her two cronies (Jada Pinkett Smith and Annie Mumalo, Joy) puts a target on her for bringing store-bought food to the school bake-sale.  Working with two other PTA-averse moms (Kristen Bell, The Boss and Kathryn Hahan, Bad Words), Amy decides to challenge Gwyneth in the upcoming PTA election.

That’s pretty much all she wrote folks, or in this case all he wrote or, more to the point, all they wrote because director/screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore don’t bother to do anything original or, I dunno, funny with this material.  Though Bell’s hapless simp is fleetingly amusing and Hahn gets in some dandy zingers clearly ad libbed on the spot, the bulk of the film is an astoundingly lame exercise in men writing about the secret life of moms.  For example, take Jada Pinkett Smith’s (Magic Mike XXL) uptight Stepford wife remarking after oogling dad-hunk Jay Hernandez (Suicide Squad), that she’d “let him put it in my”…well, I’ll let you fill in the location.  That’s literally one of Pinkett Smith’s first and only lines in the film…what an impression.

Make no mistake about it, I have no objection to a movie going crass in style.  Plenty others have shown they can do it well but here it’s so uncomfortable to witness you’ll be tempted to watch certain scenes through splayed fingers normally reserved for horror movies.  Hahn knows her way around raunchy material but even she looks like she’s totally over her dialogue comprised mostly of F-bombs and synonyms for the female anatomy.  Kunis is pleasant enough but seems out of place with Bell and Hahn…I would have loved to see her switch roles with Applegate because both actresses seem to be pining to be playing any other role than their own.

At 101 minutes the film could be a good 10 minutes shorter without the numerous slo-mo scenes of bad mom debauchery.  The first time it’s used to good effect in a late-night grocery store rampage but it soon wears out its welcome, as does the tendency to blast a pop song every three minutes to punctuate scene shifts.  It’s a sloppy movie that comes in well below the taste level I’d expect of this group of otherwise pleasant actors.

As much as I disliked this film on the whole, I have to say the end credits may just be the best I’ve seen all year.  Interviews with Kunis, Bell, Hahn, Pinkettt Smith, Applegate, and Mumalo sitting next to their real life moms provides more laughs and heart than the preceding 98 minutes.  What a shame Lucas and Moore didn’t start with these interviews and find some inspiration for the screen moms they created.  Maybe they would have been more than just male cartoon visions of what moms look and sound like.

The Silver Bullet ~ Secret in Their Eyes (2015)

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Synopsis: A tight-knit team of FBI investigators, along with their District Attorney supervisor, is suddenly torn apart when they discover that one of their own teenage daughters has been brutally murdered.

Release Date:  October 23, 2015

Thoughts: Before we talk about this American remake I want you to track down the Spanish language original.  Click here for more information.  Not only is it a damn fine example of a beautifully layered mystery that unfolds over several decades, it rightfully took home the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film in 2010.  I still remember the incredible (and now infamous) tracking shot that starts as an aerial view of a soccer stadium and seamlessly moves to a handheld chase sequence, implying everything was done in one spectacular take.

Anyway, I have some strange feelings about this US remake, mostly because I’m iffy on the casting.  Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) teams with Oscar winners Julia Roberts (August: Osage County) and Nicole Kidman (Stoker) for this and while that seems like a slam-dunk where star wattage is concerned, I’m nervous that the actors will overshadow the material.  Roberts (in a role originally written as male) gets put through the emotional ringer and it will be interesting to see how well she tackles it.  The film strangely hides the fact that Roberts and Kidman are really in the back-seat with Ejiofor driving the car…at least that’s how it is in the foreign original.  It seems like some changes have been made for the American-ized version and I’m hoping too much tinkering hasn’t been done…the original is gripping and near perfect in the way it unfolds.