Big Movies Hulk-Smash Theaters This Weekend
God bless November, that time of year when holiday blockbusters intermingle with Oscar hopefuls. Screens brim with color, bombast, nuance and tension while audiences revel in that one period of the year where everyone of us can find something to love, whether it’s the surprisingly hilariously but predictable gorgeous Thor film, or the latest mind-benders from abroad. Oh, right—also another Bad Moms movie, but you’ll want to skip that.
What if the next Avengers movie was a laugh riot? A full-blown comedy—would you be OK with that?
The answer to that question has serious implications for your appreciation of Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok.
You’re familiar with Thor, his brother, his buddies, his hair. But how well do you know Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople)? His films are charming and funny in that particularly New Zealand way, which is to say equal parts droll and silly.
There’s a real Thor movie in here somewhere. Thor (Chris Hemsworth and his abs) learns of his older sister Hela (Cate Blanchett—hela good casting!). Sure, Thor’s the God of Thunder, but Hela’s the Goddess of Death, so her return is not so welcome. But daaayumn, Cate Blanchett makes a kick-ass Goth chick.
Loki (Tom Hiddleston) returns, as does Idris Elba, so this is one bona fide handsome movie. Mark Ruffalo makes an appearance in a vintage Duran Duran tee shirt. It’s like Waititi thought to himself, how many of Hope’s crushes can we squeeze into one film?
Thor: Ragnarock lifts self-parody to goofy heights, and maybe that’s OK. There’s no question the film entertains. Does it add much to the canon? Well, let’s be honest, the Thor stand-alones are not the strongest in the Marvel universe.
You will laugh. You’ll want to hug this movie, it’s so adorable.
Unless you’re totally pissed about the whole thing, which is entirely possible.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
What if God exists and he’s an awkward adolescent boy?
That’s not exactly the point of Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, but it’s maybe as close a description as I can muster.
Lanthimos’s work (The Lobster, Dogtooth) does tend to balk at simple summarization, none more so than Sacred Deer. The film offers a look inside the life of a successful surgeon (Colin Farrell), whose opthamologist wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and their two children (Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic) are, well, perfect.
The filmmaker’s unique tone finds its perfect vehicle in Barry Keoghan (also wonderful this year in Dunkirk). Unsettlingly serene as Martin, the teenage son of a patient killed on the surgeon’s table, he controls the film and its events.
With Martin, Lanthimos is able to mine ideas of God, of the God complex, of the potentially ludicrous notion of cosmic justice.
All the while he sends up social norms, dissecting the concept of the nuclear family and wondering at the lengths we will go to avoid accountability.
A Bad Moms Christmas
“Okay, fine, we’ll go caroling, but I’m not wearing that ridiculous costume.”
Man, what a setup. When we see her wearing that ridiculous costume two seconds later it’s really, really…not funny at all, much like the other 103 minutes of A Bad Mom’s Christmas.
Amy (Mila Kunis), Kiki (Kristen Bell) and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) are tired of being overworked and under appreciated every Holiday season, so they make an oath to “take Christmas back” and just chill this year.
But they’re barely done giving lap dances to a mall Santa when they all get visits from more easily identifiable cliches, gift-wrapped as their own mothers! What the?
Writers/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (The Hangover trilogy) return from the first film to surround even more talented ladies with lazy, condescending attempts at comedy and female bonding.
Like the bedroom of Amy’s teen daughter that bears two-too-many “I love soccer” banners, Lucas and Moore are desperately trying to not only show they can write funny women but also that they are finely tuned to what makes women feel fulfilled as mothers and daughters.
A Bad Mom’s Christmas is contrived and forced at every turn, and by the time a mother/daughter heart to heart disrupts Midnight Mass while the congregation never takes one eyeball off the choir, a gift receipt is in order.
Blade of the Immortal
One hundred films in, you might expect director Takashi Miike to start repeating himself.
He does, in a way, with this big screen adaptation of the manga Blade of the Immortal, the tale of a samurai cursed with immortality.
Though Miike sticks mostly to genre work (horror, samurai, yakuza), his style veers wildly from one project to the next. Still, a thematic thread can be found in a lot of his films that questions the relevance of societal conventions. Though this theme was explored with a far more subversive touch in his 2001 gem Ichi the Killer, Blade of the Immortal shares a lot in common.
Manji (Takuya Kimura) is an insider on the outs. A samurai who’s killed his masters, he’s already doomed as the film’s prologue unwinds in gorgeous black and white. As Manji butchers his way through dozens of reprobates looking for the bounty on his head, Miike invites us into the hyperbolically brutal world of his imagination.
But it’s here, on the ground bleeding out surrounded by carnage of his own making, that Manji is gifted with immortality—a gift he takes to quite begrudgingly. Forever an outsider wanting to get farther out, he eventually takes up with an orphan bent on revenge.
Rin (Hana Sugisaki) lost her parents to outlaw bladesman Anotsu (Sota Fukushi) and his gang. Anotsu is an outsider who longs to be accepted. He’s skilled and serene where Manji is brutish and disheveled. They are opposite sides of the same coin, and for Rin’s sake, they become mortal enemies.
It’s not such an unusual plot, honestly. Though screenwriter Tetsuya Oishi complicates things with one side plot about Anotsu’s quest for acceptance and another about a rogue band of bounty hunters, the film basically boils down to one guy taking remarkable injury as he dispatches others due to sworn vengeance.
For two and a half hours.
Miike populates the corpse-strewn landscape with intriguing characters. Sure, they mainly exist to be dispatched by Manji, but each brings enough fresh personality and style to keep battle fatigue from setting in.
As is the case with his best efforts, Miike’s flair for fight staging, action choreography and bloodspatter—all of it in abundance—is on display. The result is a gorgeous, bloody mess that treads familiar ground but never wears out its welcome.
Also opening in Columbus:
Bending the Arc (NR)
Faces Places (PG)
Goodbye Christopher Robin (PG)
Mansfield 66/67 (NR)
Maya Dardel (NR)
My Beautiful Island (NR)
Walking Out (PG-13)
Reviews with help from George Wolf.