Lady Bird: Movie Man Jackson

Lady Bird, sounds like a classic 1950’s jazz album. Spoiler: It’s not, but it is the nickname that Sacramento high school senior Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) wishes to go by. She’s the artistic, headstrong, and independent type. Her personality often gets her into clashes with her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), who only wants Christine to be the “best version of herself.”

Lady Bird wishes to go out to New York for college despite the financial struggles her family is experiencing, as she is convinced she needs to get away from sleepy Sacramento to thrive. Before it’s time to fly, she’ll find out that there are many, many more lessons for her to learn before leaving the California roost.

From Spider Man: Homecoming to Dope to Brooklyn to The Edge of Seventeen, the last few years have shown that there is always room for a well-told coming-of-age movie regardless of setting or even main genre. The latest in the subgenre comes from Greta Gerwig, known mainly for acting more so than directing at this point. In her first full directorial credit, she’s steered Lady Bird to 195 fresh reviews on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing. If yours truly’s post were factored into it, I certainly wouldn’t break the streak. Lady Bird is deserving of its praise.

Lady Bird doesn’t breathe completely new life into the coming-of-age genre, but no movie really does in this subgenre. Still, it’s an extremely authentic and rooted portrait of growing up, seemingly inspired by Gerwig and her experiences growing up in Sacramento; the extent of what actually occurred and didn’t is a mystery. Doesn’t matter though, because, Gerwig’s writing is so honest and natural. Everything from the dialogue (possibly the most important thing in a coming-of-age: do the kids sound like kids?) to the traversing of high school and the many mines that are present each day. Gerwig imbues this familiar story with quirkiness and humor emphasized by the opening music by composer Jon Brion, but never forgets the heart, also punctuated by two beautiful end tracks.

Lady Bird isn’t a film one would necessarily think would be cinematic, but boy, it certainly is. The sleepiness and tucked away vibe of Sacramento, California serves as a perfect backdrop for this drama shot on location. Who knew that 2002 had such nostalgia and a real aesthetic to it? Going far beyond the timely Justin Timberlake “Cry Me a River” and other fitting musical songs (some were released around 2002 but all fit the style of the film) and fashion styles, the world Gerwig creates is very memory-evoking. Immersion may not be the right word, but Greta makes the viewer feel like they’re a fly on the wall watching all of this unfurl with the small but noticeable details.

Most teenagers are hard to get, bold one moment, afraid the next. Gerwing’s writing is great for her two lead characters, and her stars take advantage of it. No longer an up-and-comer, Saorise Ronan is simply one of the best thespians today. With Lady Bird, she’s allowed to be a lot more dynamic and proactive than, say, Brooklyn, another great movie and role albeit more reactive. Sometimes you love her for wanting to be so independent, sometimes you hate her for being so selfish.

But it’s always realistic, as is the mother of Lady Bird played by Roseanne alum Laurie Metcalf. Like Christine, Marion is far from a perfect individual, but one can see where she’s coming from. The clashing of mother-daughter is compelling and uncomfortable in a way not seen in a long time in cinema, and both should be on the short list for every major award circuit. Not to be forgotten are castmates Lucas Hedges, Beanie Feldstein, Timothée Chalamet, Odeya Rush, and especially, Tracy Letts as the father on hard career luck having an equally hard time serving as the glue that holds the household together. His actual screentime may not be enough for serious consideration, but nonetheless, his time on the screen is moving.

As we fully descend into awards season with the recent announcement of the Golden Globes, Lady Bird certainly has a presence with four nominations. Safe bet that the rest of this season will find Lady Bird perched somewhere near the top.

A-

Photo credits go to npr.org, HD-Trailers.net, Youtube.com, and glamour.com.

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The Man Who Invented Christmas: Movie Man Jackson

Charles Dickens. Renowned author, creator of Christmas as we know it. In 1842, Dickens (Dan Stevens) is riding high off his successes, gaining immense popularity across the world. Fast forward 18 months, however, and the author has fallen on hard financial times (get it?), with three flops that make people question whether Charles still has it.

Even Chuck questions whether he’s still got it, struggling through a bout of writer’s block. He only begins to break out of it by getting inspiration from those around him in London, including a miserly old man he sees at a funeral (Christopher Plummer). A Christmas Carol is born, and while Charles begins interacting with the book’s many characters in his imagination, he begins to see parallels between his fictional story and his life.

 

There are a few characters synonymous with the Christmas holiday. Christ, Rudolph, Frosty, and of course Jolly ol’ St. Nick are up there. But Scrooge and his story are as well. A Christmas Carol is a story as old as time, told many years over and over. The story of Charles Dickens is a lot less known, but this version of his classic serves to tell a little about his life while framing it in his classic. This combination makes for an unconventional and unique spin, but a spin that ends up pretty cold.

Directed by Bharat Nalljuri (MI-5), The Man Who Invented Christmas would feel at home on ABC Family—excuse me, Freeform now—rather than the silver screen. Nineteenth-century London is recreated beautifully through the costumes, lighting, and architecture. Still, the movie comes off more play-like than cinematic, though Dickens’ moments with his characters are entertaining. What Nalljuri does do well is capture how a writer can catch an idea out of thin air and go to town within seconds.

Fusing Dickens’ real-life story with his most famous creation sounds interesting in theory, until you figure out that Dickens’ story is kind of dull. OK, maybe dull is too negative, but seeing Charles’ family problems and using those to draw parallels does little from an emotional standpoint. Or maybe it’s the way the story flows between scenes, sometimes in a disjointed way that doesn’t appear to be intentional.

Playing the famous author is Dan Stevens. Stevens has no problem utilizing his natural charisma for a character that is rather dry despite every effort made by the script for him not to be. It’s a solid central performance, but doesn’t hold weight in the stocking like Christopher Plummer’s turn as Ebenezer Scrooge. Perfection ensues from the moment Plummer first appears as the miser, nailing every aspect from his physical appearance and disdain for niceties to his discovery of the true meaning of Christmas.

For those who want to see another side of the story that is The Christmas Carol that is more personal, The Man Who Invented Christmas is likely to be a interesting gift to unwrap. Others who rather just have Scrooge be the star would be best serve to catch one of the many adaptions that is not this one.

C

Photo credits go to imdb.com, myvue.com, statecinema.com/au, and ourwindsor.ca.

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Justice League: Movie Man Jackson

The Superman is dead. Bury it. People are still coping with a Superman-less (Henry Cavill) world after he sacrificed himself to defeat Doomsday. Bruce Wayne himself (Ben Affleck) feels responsible for what happened, even if Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) reminds Wayne it wasn’t his fault.

Crime-fighting doesn’t cease, though. However, a new threat always emerges from the last one. Returning to this Earth is Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), a being who comes to obliterate worlds and conquer lands through power sources known as the “Mother Boxes.” Steppenwolf and his Parademons happens to be the vision Bruce saw, and it’s a vision that he knows he cannot defeat alone. So, he’s got to recruit some help in Wonder Woman, Cyborg (Ray Fisher), The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Aquaman (Jason Momoa).

There are a lot of places to start with Justice League, obviously DC’s answer to Marvel’s Avengers. For all the events surrounding the production, it’s a minor miracle this is rather OK. Not groundbreaking or necessarily closing the gap on Marvel, and still a little disappointing compared to the high of Wonder Woman, but semi-enjoyable.

Two men essentially directed this movie in Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon, with the latter coming in after the Snyder family tragedy. For the most part, it works enough. This is not a superhero story to get engrossed into, but as an extremely basic “bad guy whose only drive is to take over the world just because and heroes have to stop him because they’re heroes” plot, it is what it is. The slightly lighter tone is appreciated without completely doing away with a darker vision. Direction-wise, there are some sleek sequences, most containing The Flash and Wonder Woman. But like the large bulk of recent comic book movies, the CGI aspect can get to be a little mind-numbing, mostly in the final act where our heroes dash, spear, punch, and electrify drone upon drone of computer-generated baddie pawns.

But what mars Justice League are the sins of the father film in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. It’s rushed. Numerous prior iterations of Batman and Superman don’t need reintroduction even in a different studio universe, and Wonder Woman got her fully detailed introduction in June. But for newbies in Cyborg, Aquaman, and The Flash, there simply isn’t enough time to build a connection with any of them. It’s a shame, too, because all three seem to have cool, unique backstories only hinted at that would make them all endearing in this team-up film.

Out of the three, only The Flash can claim to be endearing, possessing a teenage zeal comparable to Peter Parker. Hate making comparisons, but Rome aka Disney’s/Marvel’s The Avengers was not built in a day, but over a few years with intro movies that gave exposure to those who would make up the backbone of Nick Fury’s initiative. Not all of them were great, but, they laid the foundation for the big, crowd pleasing feature.

It’s also a shame that half of the team doesn’t get much background to experiment with because the casting is strong. It should be fun to see Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller, and Jason Momoa as the stars of their own shows and the big deals their characters are, instead of being told they’re a big deal but being given no reason to believe so. As for the dynamic lead duo in Batman and Wonder Woman, their prior movies give them layers of depth and you can see Affleck and Gadot really understanding what their roles entail. But the scene-stealer as odd as it sounds is probably Superman being portrayed once again by Henry Cavill. For the first time, it truly appears as if Cavill is having a good time as the Man of Steel, still being the de facto paragon while noticeable charisma. The less said about JL’s villainous forgettable Steppenwolf, the better.

Justice League is ultimately a byproduct of mistakes made from prior DCEU installments, but somehow, the final product is serviceable. And looking to the future, there’s enough here to get a little excited for. Baby steps.

C

Photo credits go to variety.com, collider.com, and eonline.com.

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I, Tonya: Movie Man Jackson

Why can’t it be just about the skating? If it were only about the skating, Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) would probably end up as the best figure skater to ever do it. At the age of four she embarked on this career path, driven by her overbearing mother, LaVona Golden (Allison Janney). The talent is evident from the first time she shows her skills in an older age group. Eventually, she becomes the first woman to land a triple axel.

If it were only about the skating, Tonya’s story would be a happy one. But exposed to the constant abuse from LaVona and her first love Jeff (Sebastian Stan), the volatility of her situation places her down a tragic path of darkness, culminating with “the incident” against competitor Nancy Kerrigan that would come to define her life.

Sure, the world may have gotten the great ESPN 30 for 30 in The Price of Gold, but it is kind of surprising that it took almost a quarter-century for the infamous Tonya Harding incident to be captured onto the silver screen. Jordan years (that’s 23 for the non-sports fans out there) later, I, Tonya officially arrives in the awards season and winds up standing as very, very surprising film.

Sometimes tone and approach can be the most important factors as it pertains to how well a movie’s story is told and whether it resonates or not. Massive kudos must be given to director Craig Gillespie (The Finest Hours, Fright Night 2011), writer/producer Steven Rogers, producers Margot Robbie, Tom Ackerley, Bryan Unkeless, and even Tonya Harding herself who serves as a consultant for the movie for nailing these two components. There’s an alternate universe where I, Tonya is super dry and told with a straight face. That recipe is likely a forgettable view.

Why? Because the preposterous life story of Tonya Harding—from 4 years old on to her celebrity boxing stint—is too unbelievable not to chuckle or even laugh hard at; it might as well be a fiction except it actually happened. The Office-like format in storytelling takes a little while to find a groove, and the fourth-wall breaking isn’t always smoothly deployed, but necessary to seeing how the main characters’ recollection of the events are not the same. However, using this method allows a more emotionally-affecting look into Ms. Harding herself. Seriously, I Tonya goes there to those dark, icy, and uncomfortable places. Gillespie and company do the right thing in straying away from painting Tonya as a complete victim, but rather, examining how one, even with immense talent, is rather hopeless to beat a self-fulfilling prophecy without a stable environment.

Some biographies—especially around awards season—are rather tepid, absent of any spirit or excitement. Not, I, Tonya. The characters, from major to minor, pop off the screen. A mid-80’s to early 90’s soundtrack envelopes the screen with electricity. Gillespie’s skating scenes are some of the more breathtaking sequences of the entire year, filmed with grace and elegance.This is never a dull watch.

The energy is obviously carried into the performances as well. As mentioned, even the bit players in Julianne Nicholson, McKenna Grace, Bobby Cannavale, and Paul Walter Hauser (a real scene-stealer midway through as Tonya’s bodyguard) make their imprint on the feature. But this film is anchored by its superstar trifecta in Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, and Allison Janney. Robbie is firmly a superstar who raises anything she’s in at this point, and her work as the troubled figure skater is her career-best, deftly switching between sadness, anger, and dark humor and remaining a character and not a caricature despite some embellishment. A moment midway through where Robbie asks a judge about what exactly they have against her and why it is not solely about skating is gut-wrenching.

Stan, who ironically was in a vastly movie with clear parallels to Tonya Harding in The Bronze, continues to cement himself as more than the Winter Soldier, and here’s to hoping his Marvel future doesn’t prevent him from doing more work like this. Janney is unrecognizable in her turn portraying Harding’s mother, ruthless, brow-beating, and foul-mouthed and the center of her daughter’s troubles and issues. Undoubtedly one of the definitive standout performances the 2017 calendar year.

What is truth? Jumbled, because everyone has their own version of it, according to the movie. But the truth is that with damn near flawless execution, a ton of energy, and top-notch performances, I, Tonya stands out as one of the more memorable biopics in recent memory.

A-

Photo credits go to vulture.com, usmagazine.com, teaser-trailer.com, and variety.com

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I Love You, Daddy: Movie Man Jackson

Art imitates life. TV writer and producer Glen Topher (Louis C.K.) has amassed much fame and fortune during his career. This success has come with a cost to his personal life, losing relationships with his ex-wife, Aura (Helen Hunt), and his girlfriend, Maggie (Pamela Adlon). He shares an enabling relationship with his seventeen-year-old daughter, China (Chloë Grace Moretz), seemingly always getting what she wants by asking her daddy and following it up with “I love you, Daddy.”

Their relationship becomes turbulent with the arrival of legendary filmmaker Leslie Goodwin (John Malkovich) onto the scene, who just so happens to be Glen’s idol. The pushing-70 Leslie immediately takes a liking to Glen’s daughter, naturally creeping out the father. Glen struggles with how to approach this, in addition to trying to overcome writer’s block for a new television show and navigating a partnership with the starlet Grace Cullen (Rose Byrne).

Nothing ever completely exists in a vacuum, be it art, food, technology, humans—or in this case—-thoughts on a film. I Love You, Daddy doesn’t so much arrive on the scene as it does get shooed to the back like a kid working backstage on a school play who accidentally is made visible. The accidentally visible, in this case, being screeners sent ahead of the storm. It is impossible to view this Louis CK-helmed flick without thinking about the sexual misconduct news and admission that involves CK (as well as a bevvy of other known figures). It leaves his film as a weirdly fascinating yet mostly disturbing viewing for mostly the wrong reasons.

Let’s get this out of the way, however. I Love You, Daddy features a guy who’s done horrific things, but it is still far from a horrific movie. There is some good here, beginning with the black-and-white styled employed by C.K., paying homage to works done by Woody Allen (Manhattan, particularly) and Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita. While Louis’ editing as it pertains to telling a coherent story can be problematic at times, within scenes, his camera work can be quite good and steady accompanied by a old-school orchestral score. The cast featuring names like Byrne, Adlon, Moretz, Charlie Day, and Malkovich make for a solidly acted production with the writing for their characters that is given, with Byrne and Moretz turning in the best work and managing to hold interest.

Louis C.K. shot this film in secret, and after watching, easy to see why. “Art imitates life” has never felt as fitting as it does in I Love You, Daddy. This is not an exercise in subtly. In roughly 25 minutes of screentime, the viewer is subjected to 45 seconds of simulated masturbation, a “casting couch” scene that covers all the bases of power abuse from both sexes, and an open admission by a character calling another a pedophile. Finally, there’s the dialogue, which feels way too spot-on to be clever. Lines such as “He’s kind of gross, you know? But he’s hilarious,” and “I’m sorry to all women. I want all women to know I apologize for being me!” are akin to reading OJ Simpson’s If I Did It.

Which raises the ultimate question: Why was this film made? As a comedy, little is funny. As a drama, little is dramatic. Did we really need a movie representation of what 2017 is going to be known for? Thematically, there appears to be a desire on Louis C.K.’s part to make some pseudo-intellectual message about everyone being perverts in the world in one way or another. But, this holds no water, especially after the weak, tie-a-bow-on-it nice ending that leaves little resolved.

One can only surmise that Louis C.K. made I Love You, Daddy to serve as some sort of release therapy to himself that would be played across a national viewing audience that could potentially “understand” it. Some things aren’t meant to be understood, but taken at face value. I Love You, Daddy is one of those things.

C-

Photo credits go to vulture.com, rollingstone.com, en.wikipedia.org, and the malaymailonline.com.

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Murder on the Orient Express: Movie Man Jackson

Everyone is a suspect…and connected by six degrees of separation. After a demanding case solved in Jerusalem, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh)—the world’s greatest detective—is allowing himself some R&R in Istanbul. The best laid plans never go according to plan, as durign his time away from work, Poirot is called to London to investigate a case.

With no travel plans readily available, Hercule turns to his friend Mr. Bouc (Tom Bateman), who helps run the Orient Express, a train on the path to London. While vacation is cut short, at least the detective can relax by reading some Dickens for a few days.

Again, the best laid plans never go according to plan, as the train is derailed from its course, and during this derail, someone on the train has killed a passenger. There’s a Murder on the Orient Express and said murderer is still on the train. Only one man can solve this.

Ahh, the whodunit mystery. It is a movie genre that can be pretty limiting when one thinks about it. Often, there isn’t a ton of depth under the initial mystery to make for anything unforgettable, whether the production is loosely defined as an “original” (à la Happy Death Day) or a remake adapted from an Agatha Christie novel, which Murder on the Orient Express happens to be. Summed up, this remake is probably unnecessary but is certainly impressive to look at, have a little fun with, and never think about again after an initial watch.

The first thing noticed about “MotOE” is the well-done cinematography, commitment to the respective time period via costumes/setting, lighting, and just the mostly strong direction from director Kenneth Branagh (Thor, Cinderella) shot on 65mm. Very easy to feel transported into 1934. Along with a fitting score by composer Patrick Doyle, it all adds to the old-school feeling. Stylistically, this is a classic movie made in 2017. In ways, the last-generation video game LA Noire comes to mind, from style to execution. While this Orient Express is far from original, there is a small feeling of freshness, because this type of production isn’t that common. As a basic whodunit, those who have never been exposed to prior iterations (like yours truly) may be surprised at how everything shakes down. While the actual culprit reveal isn’t something I’m completely pleased with, it did keep me guessing for the bulk of the runtime, doing the job on that front.

While Murder on the Orient Express’ highest plus is that of the technical work behind the screen, it isn’t without a little fault. The murder scene in particular which the movie is built around is rather rushed and isn’t really treated with the gravitas one would be led to believe. The medium shots from outside the train peering into the glass in voyeuristic manner is nice to look at, but probably a bit overused as well after so many times without amounting to much. As inane as this may sound, the white subtitles were a little easy to miss at times with some of them being shown against backgrounds (walls, dress shirts) that also happen to be white. Small, but some of this dialogue is critical and easy to miss.

What isn’t easy to miss is that mustache Kenneth Branagh sports as the famed detective. It stands out among everything, like his performance among the rest of the cast. Call Murder on the Orient Express ‘The Kenneth Branagh Show’ as director, lead actor, and producer. He is an interesting character with some internal depth and Branagh does a great job with an intro scene that makes Poirot easy to buy into as the self-proclaimed world’s greatest detective. Where Branagh (and screenplay writer Michael Green) struggles is with the repeated stabs at humor. A few are effective, most are not. Same can be said for the interrogation scenes. Half seize attention, but others can actually be dull.

A cast this beefy shouldn’t be predominantly forgettable though. Yet, that’s accurate for this film. Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Penélope Cruz, and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo all blend into each other. Honestly, I can’t remember who was the countess and who was the cook! Others like Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr, Johnny Depp, and Michelle Pfeiffer do make a little more of a lasting impression, but to call them fairly detailed would be a tad too generous. This is Branagh’s baby and his alone.

It is Branagh as the conductor, engineer, and bellhop who leads Murder on the Orient Express to a destination of Finesville. Choo-choo.

C+

Photo credits go to cinemablend.com, highsnobiety.com, and filmandtvnow.com.

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The Strange Ones: Movie Man Jackson

Not only is the Universe stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think. Two young travelers in Nick (Alex Pettyfer) and Jeremiah (James Freedson-Jackson) are making their way across what looks to be the American heartland. It’s a vacation of sorts…or so it is to be believed.

No one knows exactly why the two are being nomads. Even Jeremiah doesn’t really know what the deal is. Regardless, there are hidden depths and secrets that may prove to be the key as to who these young men are, and what their aim is.

Along with it being an independent film, hearing a movie titled The Strange Ones perked the intrigue level for yours truly. Carrying the genre descriptors of drama and thriller only seemed to hint at the possibilities of something truly unique. Alas, The Strange Ones is part mesmerizing and part mundane, making for a product that exists in a gray area of meh.

There are two halves to The Strange Ones, co-directed by Christopher Radcliff and Lauren Wolkstein. The first half relies on the mysterious relationship coupled with the open-world, frontier-like setting. Little hints in pieces of dialogue serve to build expectations for a worthy story reveal. It can be frustratingly slow and tough to latch onto any one individual, but, Radcliff and Wolkstein do a strong job of keeping interest levels high via confident technical direction and a dingy (in a positive way) cinematography that amps up the mystery along with another ambient score by Brian McOmber (It Comes At Night).

The first half is undoubtedly stronger than the second half. As the reveals and the reasons for the brothers being on the run and the nature of their relationship are brought to light, the film loses its vice grip on the audience. To hopefully spoil nothing, there seems to be a lot wanting to be said about trauma/coping, perception, and growing up, however, the execution is lacking and left a little too vague. Perhaps it is here where the troubles of adapting what was originally a 2011 short movie into a full-length feature are evident. From a thrilling aspect, The Strange Ones disappoints as well, serving much more as a drama and mystery than anything truly white-knuckled or unnerving.

There’s a chance that more clarity could be gained from an additional re-watch. However, the detached story begets detached characters that ultimately makes for an empty experience. There are a few atrocities and disturbing moments that are striking, but it is hard to say they garner any emotion. Unfortunate, too, because the two lead performances are quite sound in Alex Pettyfer and James Freedson-Jackson. Pettyfer—probably known more for his physique and difficulties with Channing Tatum than his acting chops—blends easily into a role that should launch him into other meatier roles. But the standout is the young Freedson-Jackson (Cop Car). The way he delivers specific dialogue and holds his gaze when recollecting things is spectacular. One scene early on in particular is haunting. With stronger scripts, the youngster should have ample future opportunities to become a rising star.

And maybe that’s the best way to look at The Strange Ones, a production featuring actors and directors who show obvious talents that have yet to be fully realized. It’s a half-empty one and a half-full one.

C

Photo credits go to imdb.com, indiewire.com, and filmmisery.com.

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Daddy’s Home 2: Movie Man Jackson

The dads are back in town. After going to war over who would be the rightful dad to Dusty’s (Mark Wahlberg) kids, stepfather Brad (Will Ferrell) and biological father Dusty have reached an understanding and one could even call them friends. There’s a clear understanding of schedules and needs, and everything’s working out, aside from Christmas-time. To make for a more enriching X-mas, Brad suggests a “together Christmas” between the two families with everyone around to celebrate the holiday in the same house.

The only thing that could screw this up is the presence of their dads. And what do you know, Dusty’s dad, macho Kurt (Mel Gibson) and Brad’s dad, mushy Don (John Lithgow) arrive. The basic Christmas has turned into an elaborate cabin vacation getaway at the push of a phone button by Kurt. All the great progression Brad and Dusty made turns into regression, and threatens to ruin Christmas and their friendship forever.

If it feels like we just got Daddy’s Home 2 last week, it’s because we did. Technically, this is the same movie give or take as A Bad Moms Christmas, only flipping the genders. Neither sequel should really exist, but Bad Moms 2 at least feels a little more inspired and carries a little more of a good time. The same cannot be said for the sequel to Daddy’s Home. Comparisons or not, this is simply a bad, low-rung comedy.

Nary a plot exists in Daddy’s Home 2. There’s the whole dysfunctional parents and a “will they, won’t they” breakup aspect between Dusty and Brad, but most of the movie’s runtime is comprised of various slapstick moments fluffed with bad writing. For every OK-to-good line of funny dialogue, there seems to be two or three lines plus an unfunny/telegraphed/callback sight gag that fails to do the trick. At least the word “scoff” is used liberally. Par for the course for many of these Christmas movies, the themes of family and forgiveness are prevalent and made to be wrapped up and addressed via a “heartwarming” finale that speaks to the holiday season. It happens so fast, however, that the effect is lost, further speaking to the cash-in feel of the movie.

Returning writer/director Sean Anders (Horrible Bosses 2) had to know this, which is perhaps why the sequel is beefed up with a bigger cast, with Gibson, Lithgow, and John Cena (very underutilized, by the way) of course being the main attractions after Wahlberg and Ferrell. Problem is, there are too many characters for the film to get into a comedic groove. It’s weird, too; it’s hard to really consider Daddy’s Home 2 an ensemble movie, but throw in Gibson, Lithgow, Cena, Ferrell, Wahlberg and Linda Cardellini, Alessandra Ambrosio, and an additional three to four other kids and it just gets to be way too much. Easier to overlook if more of the comedy did the job, which it doesn’t.

 

Most of the coal goes to the script or lack thereof, but that doesn’t mean that the cast is absolved of all holiday sins. Of the cast, Lithgow probably has the best moment or two. Ferrell and Wahlberg have obvious chemistry, but it alone cannot elevate what is present. The other big name in Mel Gibson screams miscast and/or laziness. Mel’s been funny before as the smug, masculine asshole with an underlying heart (see: What Women Want), but that ship likely has sailed, and put more succinctly, there’s no heart at all in his character in Daddy’s Home 2.

What’s left is Gibson spouting annoying insults and statements going on about what makes a man a man. I wonder if the two grandfather roles in Gibson and Lithgow would have made for more comedy if they were flip-flopped and had each actor go against type. He kind of epitomizes another huge problem with the sequel. It’s darker than it needs to be, with two scenes played for laughs yet being more disturbing than intended. As for the rest of the cast, there’s too many of them as previously stated to build comedic chemistry and worthwhile scenes.

And so, enough scoffing been said about Daddy’s Home 2. There are other funnier and heartwarming films about the Christmas time that don’t leave the viewer in a depressed state.

D-

Photo credits go to collider.com, itunes.apple.com, and hellogiggles.com.

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Thor: Ragnarok-Movie Man Jackson

Ah-ah, ah! After the events of Sokovia, The God of Thunder, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), has been busy scouring the Earth for Infinity Stones. He’s been hell-bent on prepping his city of Asgard from a destruction known as Ragnarok, a feeling he possesses as a result of his reoccurring visions of this event. Believing that he has prevented Ragnarok from happening after defeating Surtur the fire demon, the hero returns home in good spirits.

But, those do not last long, as the defeating of Surtur wasn’t the catalyst to stopping Ragnarok. In truth, Ragnarok has already begun, and the Goddess of Death, Hela (Cate Blanchett), announces it with an impact arrival, obliterating Thor’s legendary hammer and banishing him, along with brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to a foreign planet called Sakarr. Led by The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), it’s a place where fatal battles are fought for entertainment, and Thor is forced to enter and fight an old friend in The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). To get back home and save his home, Thor must fight, and somehow get the help of Banner, Loki, and even a mysterious nomad by the name of Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) to drive out Hela.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But if it’s fraying, re-coat it. Terrible similes aside, the two Thor movies showcasing the God of Thunder weren’t exactly broken, but the fact is, they are two of the more forgotten or rather, nondescript movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to fans, especially The Dark World (truthfully, yours truly is rather fond of 2011’s Thor). So with Thor: Ragnarok, director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) has certainly left behind a movie that won’t be considered “nondescript.” Has he left a movie behind that many are calling one of Marvel’s best? That’s up for debate.

The direction is certainly worth taking note of and remembering. The style the trailers promised is front and center throughout. Asgard has never looked better, but it’s the world of Sakarr—a trippy, futuristic hue of neon colors and post-apocalyptic feel—that stands out the most. It makes the somewhat bumpy first 20 or so minutes worth sticking around for. Waititi’s action, visual flair, and predominately 80’s inspired score/soundtrack coalesce to create something so unlike what has been seen in the MCU up to this point. Even the movies that Ragnarok will be most compared with in Guardians of the Galaxy volumes 1 and 2, the third chapter of Thor is substantially different than those.

One main thing Ragnarok shares with those movies is an appetite for humor. It wouldn’t be out of line to consider Thor: Ragnarok comedy first, action/adventure second. And for the most part, the comedy hits more than it misses. Seriously, there are some very funny jokes and awesome delivery found in all characters. But honestly, it can get to be a bit much. The story, while functional, kind of seems to be written around the jokes (apparently 80% of the film is improvised). Absolutely nothing is wrong with a lighter superhero film, though going so light while still trying to generate emotion can undermine some of the more dramatic moments of the production. In a few “big” moments, Ragnarok seems to struggle with this, wanting to immediately cut to the next visual gag or joke from something with a serious or vice versa.

With that said, one does have to commend those in charge who say they’d like to flip the script and actually achieve in doing it. Thor: Ragnarok isn’t a Jason Bourne, a franchise in which director and lead actor said they’d never do another unless they could do something else—only to proceed with doing the same thing they had done three movies prior. The changes in Ragnarok seem to revitalize the main holdovers from the prior installments in Hemsworth and Hiddleston. Both seem to really be having fun like never before, and the machinations of the story allow them to take advantage of their natural chemistry. Those who wanted more Hulk get their wish granted; the not-so-jolly green giant has a load of screentime and Ruffalo handles the two parts of the beast and Banner like only he can.

Newbie to the MCU Tessa Thompson brings a great new character into the fold as Valkyrie, the foundation and backstory being laid for her own potential standalone journey. As for other newbies, their characters don’t amount to much in the grand scheme of things, but in the ride that is Thor: Ragnarok, they fit right in. Anytime a wide-eyed Jeff Goldblum is cast (save for Independence Day: Resurgence), it can only amp the fun factor up. There are some disappointments, but not due to performance. The villainous Hela is introduced wonderfully and played up wonderfully by Cate Blanchett, only to be forgotten in long stretches of the movie. Karl Urban, always a joy to watch, is a little underutilized as a basic henchman. Taika Waititi probably possesses the biggest laughs lending his voice to Korg, a rock-based gladiator-turned-gatekeeper of the battle arena.

 

Thor: Ragnarok is a sugar rush in the most positive and negative of ways. But Marvel does deserve some praise for wanting to tweak its formula and try a few new things with one of its less beloved lead Avengers. No matter what…Marvel, uh, finds a way.

C+

Photo credits go to collider.com, polygon.com, and comicbook.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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A Bad Moms Christmas: Movie Man Jackson

Tis the season to be jolly—errr, overworked. The threesome of friends in Amy (Mila Kunis), Kiki (Kristen Bell), and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) is up to their limits in stress. Why? It’s Christmas season, which means a lot hustling here and there, cooking, and being responsible for every gift and event. All the ladies want is a relaxed, lowkey time of year with their loved ones.

Those best laid plans go to the wayside when each of their moms come in ahead of schedule to complicate matters even further. There’s Amy’s mother (Christine Baranski), the perfectionist, Kiki’s mother (Cheryl Hines), the suffocator, and Carla’s mother (Susan Sarandon), the deadbeat. To take Christmas back, the three younger mothers need to be the strong women they are and stand up to the ones that birthed them into this world.

It’s easy to see why one wouldn’t necessarily be excited at the prospect of A Bad Moms Christmas, the sequel to last year’s surprise hit Bad Moms. The state of recent affairs as it pertains to mid-to-big budget comedies over the past few years isn’t exactly a laughing matter. And there’s the whole sequel aspect that many movies—especially comedies (looking at you, Dumb and Dumber To, Zoolander 2, and Hot Tub Time Machine 2) —drop the ball on. It’s with surprise, then, that A Bad Moms Christmas is the rare comedy sequel that is on par with and possibly better than the first.

Co-directors and writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore return to direct the mothers finding themselves under immense stress again. Bad Moms rightfully tapped into an audience that was underrepresented in a movie-going audience, and achieved in becoming a sleeper hit. But intentional or not, it did feel a little too narrow on the four-quadrant movie scale. Not so with A Bad Moms Christmas. The broadening of scope to the holiday season generally makes for a more enjoyable time and an easier connection for a wider viewership, as we’ve all been there—mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandmas, and grandparents—experiencing the stresses of the St. Nick season. While not for all ages, it’s easy to see this becoming a staple in Christmas rotations and top 10 Christmas movie lists.

A Bad Moms Xmas is kind of dark. Not dark in a dark comedy sense (the vulgarity is doubled this time, for better and for worse), but thematically, tackling parenting issues of negligence, perfection, and attachment and seeing how these pressures can manifest down to the next generation of parents in a family. Some of it is forced, but this does give a little more emotion and depth to the storyline on this go-around. As for more heavy negatives, “Bad Moms 2” shares some of those common ones found in the modern R comedy, namely an over-reliance on montages, being vulgar for vulgar’s sake, and a runtime that runs long in the final act.

But overall, A Bad Moms Christmas delivers more than not on what it’s designed to do: Make an audience laugh. That is somewhat attributed to the returning threesome of Kunis, Bell, and Hahn, clearly having fun to the point where they seem to be legitimately laughing during the back-and-forth between their characters. But, they, along with everyone else, happen to be honestly overshadowed by the “Golden Girl” trio of Cheryl Hines, Susan Sarandon, and Christine Baranski in what happens to be amazing casting. Hines is gloriously twisted from the get-go, and Baranski has moment upon moment of excellent lines and running jokes delivered to stoic perfection. Of the three, Sarandon’s character is the distant third as Hahn’s mom, “Isis,” a little too mean-spirited to earn consistent humor as Hines and Baranski do, but nonetheless, at least she’s not in Tammy.

Whether a product of very disappointing big comedies or low expectations equated to sequel-itis, it comes as a surprise that A Bad Moms Christmas is not only competent but actually worth some real hearty laughs. Joy to the (comedy) world.

B-

Photo credits go to imdb.com, YouTube.com, metacritic.com, and collider.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson