The Morning After: Oct. 2, 2017

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Bad Moms

R-rated comedies have come fast and furious the last several years, tapping into a market that clamors for humor of the not-quite-kosher kind. Myriad films have tried, few have succeeded and although Bad Moms has a lot of problems, it works a great deal of the time.

Mila Kunis plays a mother on the verge of nervous breakdown. Her children are flippant, her husband is a waste of space, her work life takes advantage of her part-time help, and the PTA leadership (Christian Applegate) is a control freak. As she makes friends with the bad-girl mom (Kathryn Hahn) and the pliant housewife (Kristen Bell), she comes to the realization that she doesn’t need to be the perfect mother to be a great one. Thus, she embarks on an effort to live her life as she sees fit rather than at the whim of those around her. As she asserts herself, a conflict with the PTA leads to her imperfect run for the presidency, and sets off a chain of events that threaten to destroy her.

Although I’m found her That ’70s Show character and performance mediocre at best, Kunis showed terrific promise in her almost-Oscar-nominated performance in Black Swan. She has shown incredible growth as an actress and her own motherhood has perfectly informed her work in this film. Hahn and Bell are likewise superb. Less impressive, focused on a stereotypical villain style are Applegate and her cohorts Jada Pinkette Smith and Annie Mumolo.

This is a film that resonates easily with anyone struggling to be a parent. After decades of ideals such as Florence Henderson as Mrs. Brady, Barbara Billingsley as Mrs. Clever, and countless other impossibly perfect role models, it’s wonderful to see an embrace of an counter-archetype, the flawed mother who doesn’t feel the need to impress others to be successful. That the film balances raunchy humor with an overly traditional narrative framework is something of a feat. For a film like this, an asymmetric conclusion might have been advisable and while the predictable and neatly-wrapped ending is frustrating, the film works for the most part.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

While there’s a juvenile charm to the original Kingsman film, there was also a fascinating exploration of style in that film that made for a promising opening to a potentially worthwhile future. In the span of one sequel, however, that promise is wasted.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle opens not just with the callously manipulated rebirth of one character, but the utter destruction of nearly everything that made the original exciting. As the Kingsmen are eliminated in a brazen missile-guided series of explosions, the fate of the intelligence operation is left in the hands of its two surviving members: Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong). They seek the assistance of their American counterparts in Statesman, a Kentucky whiskey manufacturer. Lead by Champagne (Jeff Bridges), the excessively stereotypically stylized cowboys (including Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, Pedro Pascal) are a mere tool the Kingsmen will use to take down the drug queenpin Poppy (Julianne Moore).

Not one, but two dead characters from the original film are resurrected here, the Kingsman wash-out Charlie (Edward Holcroft), now with a bionic arm; and Eggy’s former mentor Harry (Colin Firth), now with an eye patch and retrograde amnesia. That neither explanation is plausible (and one is explicitly countered by a scene from the previous film) doesn’t seem to matter much consider how many implausibilities exist within the film. As with the prior installment, there are so many outlandish contraptions and fight sequences that it’s no surprise that these two revivals seem to fit.

The plot is haphazardly constructed and every frame is forced to fit the premise and even last-minute betrayals are boorish and pointless. Each set piece is set up for maximum excitement, but ultimately feel hollow. While in Kingsman: The Secret Service, there’s a modest foundation in reality, no such grounding exists here. Fewer than a half-dozen scenes feel grounded in reality, and all of those exist almost in spite of the premise. The film also tries desperately to seem forward thinking in its treatment of Berry’s and Moore’s characters, it’s all spoiled by one incredibly sexist and demeaning scene set inside a tent at Glastonbury Music Festival. A thoroughly repulsive scene that should have been utterly re-written, or completely excised from the film.

Murder Party

A municipal employee leading a miserable life stumbles upon an invitation that leads him on a journey through the dark underworld of artistic expression in the haphazard and perversely meandering Murder Party.

Christopher S. Hawley (Chris Sharp) is so docile that he can’t even convince his furry cat to vacate his chair as he arrives home at the end of the day. Having picked up a mysterious invitation blowing through the suburban streets, Christopher decides to accept a questionable invitation to a murder party where a group of artists are fighting to secure grant money from an egocentric art aficionado.

With few wits to his credit, Christopher manages to periodically luck into escape as the artists turn on each other or pursue him across rooftops in hopes of hacking him to pieces in the name of art. A minor league indictment of the superficiality of big city art communities, the film comes off as crass, calculated, and corny in equal measure. While some of the practical effects are compelling, and a three or four scenes play quite well, the mercifully short 79-minute film drags frequently and tries far too hard to be inventive.

There are a handful of homages to prominent ’80s horror films, from which the film draws measurable inspiration, but the end result is something disappointingly lifeless, especially from director Jeremy Saulnier, who would, six years later, become a prominent player on the indie scene with his films Blue Ruin and Green Room. This wasn’t his debut, but it certainly wasn’t a feather in his career cap.

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