Kicking the Tweets

A Bad Moms Christmas (2017)

I know very little about being a mom, so I'm in good company with the writer/directors of A Bad Moms Christmas. In this rushed, ugly sequel to last year's surprise comedy smash, a trio of clichéd, put-upon suburbanites grapples with unannounced holiday visits from their equally cookie-cutter parents. The first film offered some insights into the pressures of motherhood. The sequel transforms Christmas into the ultimate commercial measure of a woman's parenting abilities. It also doubles down on misandry (men are still exclusively depicted as stooges or greased-up, walking erections) and uses kids as profanity puppets. A Bad Moms Christmas relies on our caring about the kind of first-world gossipy nonsense one might overhear at a Whole Foods Chardonnay-and-quinoa tasting. It's entertaining for a couple minutes, sure, but after two hours of wining and whining, you begin to wonder how you stumbled into this garish clown-show in the first place.


Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

I left October exactly as I’d found it, with a conflicted sense of what kind of movies are (and are not) recommendable. I felt half-bad steering people away from the gorgeous but pointless and overlong Blade Runner 2049, and here I am, about to burst the bubble on Thor: Ragnarok. It, too, is gorgeous and, for the first half, remarkably funny, imaginative, and unpredictable. But the God of Thunder’s (Chris Hemsworth) space-road-trip with Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and a rogue Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) soon gives way to cookie-cutter comic-book-movie bullshit. Cate Blanchett plays yet another genocidal villain with daddy issues (just how many illegitimate kids did Odin have, anyway?) who mows through CGI foes like…well, CGI foes. She also draws power from her home planet—a concept that worked so much better in Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, six months ago. Leave after hour one. Sneak into Blade Runner 2049. Repeat.


Acts of Vengeance (2017)

In Back to School, Rodney Dangerfield said, “If you wanna look thin, hang out with fat people.” Maybe Antonio Banderas’ recent team-ups with Saban Films are some kind of late-career ploy to remind the world of what a charismatic, versatile actor he is. Both Gun Shy and Acts of Vengeance are DTV freak-shows, the kinds of movies you Redbox just to see how far the mighty have fallen. Luckily, Banderas approaches Vengeance with all the haunted, angry sincerity he unleashed in Desperado, giving us a much-needed focal point amidst the pedestrian plot mechanics and interminable montages of rummaging through criminal hideouts. The story, about an aloof, high-powered attorney who takes a vow of silence while hunting whoever killed his family, can best be described as Liar Liar meets Death Wish, with narration by the Nasonex bee—minus the consistent, Tommy Wiseau-level hilarity that implies. Banderas deserves better. Goddammit, so do we.


Chavela (2017)

We romanticize pioneers out of cowardice. It’s fine to honor trailblazers. Their accomplishments can inspire hope and innovation in future generations. But rarely do we appreciate the spiritual and physical toll we demand of those we consider extraordinary. In their bittersweet documentary, Chavela, co-directors Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi chronicle the long, hard life of Latin songstress Chavela Vargas, who defiantly shattered the norms of how female entertainers were supposed to dress, sing, and screw. In her seventies, Chavela found the international acclaim and acceptance that had been so elusive in Mexico’s insular, unforgiving entertainment industry. But before being heralded as an inspiration by the likes of Pedro Almodóvar and Salma Hayek, she battled alcohol and heartache, translating isolation into music’s most soul-shaking lyrics with guttural delivery. This film is a touching, warts-and-all reminder that greatness often lies far beyond the limits of where most of us deem worth venturing.


Tokyo Vampire Hotel (2017)

I like movies featuring vampires, violence, and the Japanese pop aesthetic, so Sion Sono’s Tokyo Vampire Hotel should have really been my thing. But this nearly two-and-a-half-hour blood canvas obliterates its flimsy horror/fantasy boundaries early on, never fully recovering from a sadistic, walk-out-worthy café gun massacre. The premise centers on immortal warring dynasties vying for control of a hotel whose unsuspecting human “guests” become a perpetual food supply. It’s good stuff, sadly lost in soapy, sappy narratives and an impossible economy of characters (both victims and undead staff appear to multiply exponentially, despite the rising tide of viscera). It makes sense that Tokyo Vampire Hotel was trimmed from an Amazon Japan TV miniseries, especially because its essence had already been distilled from less stylized and more soulful works by Quentin Tarantino and Brian De Palma. This is a broom closet, downgraded from a smoking room, and advertised as a suite.