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Tuesday
Nov072017

Mayhem (2017)

When two movies with the same premise come out in the same year (be they dueling asteroid movies or Winston Churchill biopics), it's tempting to think of them as cancelling each other out. Pick one. Skip the other. Both Mayhem and The Belko Experiment center on employees viciously murdering each other while trapped in office buildings; both bring big ideas to the blood-splattered table. Mayhem director Joe Lynch and writer Matias Caruso unleash an inhibitions-neutralizing virus on a shady corporate law firm, sparking a wickedly grim commentary about what everyday people often trade for prestige and security. Mayhem isn't as gory as Belko, but the protagonists' unsavory and unpredictable behavior sharpens the film's satiric edge. Steven Yuen and Samara Weaving make for one of this year's most complicated leading duos. As they fight their way up the drooling jackal pile, you may wonder if there's anyone left to root for.

Monday
Nov062017

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.

Thursday
Nov022017

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.

Wednesday
Oct252017

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.

Tuesday
Oct242017

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.