Bad Santa 2

F*** Magazine

Director : Mark Waters
Cast : Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Brett Kelly, Kathy Bates, Christina Hendricks, Ryan Hansen
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 1h 32min
Opens : 24 November 2016
Rating : R21 (Nudity and Coarse Language)

bad-santa-2-posterHo ho f***ing ho – everyone’s favourite chain-smoking, alcoholic, swearing, sex-addicted Santa is back. Willie Stokes (Thornton), a ne’er-do-well conman, thinks his days dressing up as Santa Claus with his accomplice Marcus Skidmore (Cox) playing the part of an elf are over. The duo used to rob department stores at Christmas, but after Marcus shot Willie eight times in in the back, it seemed unlikely that their partnership would resume. Years later, Marcus ropes Willie in to steal from the coffers of Regent (Hansen), the corrupt head of the charity Giving City. Regent’s wife Diane (Hendricks), who oversees the charity’s operations, catches Willie’s eye. Willie is forced to work alongside his estranged mother Sunny (Bates), a hardened criminal who has orchestrated the heist. The trio’s plans are disrupted by Thurman Merman’s (Kelly) arrival in Chicago. Willie won’t admit it, but he’s grown fond of the kid, whose father was imprisoned and whose mother died. As Willie spends Christmas with this peculiar ‘family’, the ruse is in danger of being uncovered.


Bad Santa has become a cult comedy, an ode to bitter self-destructiveness that serves to counteract saccharine holiday fare. Bad Santa was shocking and irreverent, and suffice it to say, audiences are harder to get a rise out of 13 years later. The idea was first mooted around 2009, and Bad Santa 2 has finally come to fruition. Bad Santa 2 doesn’t try to top its predecessor in the offensiveness stakes: the language, political incorrectness and bawdiness are presented matter-of-factly. Director Mark Waters of Mean Girls fame replaces the first film’s director Terry Zwigoff. Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross’ screenplay is as salty as one would expect, with humour and dialogue that keeps in line with the first film’s tone. The overarching plot revolving around robbing the crooked leader of a charity gives the film enough structure for the jokes to be built on.


Willie Stokes has become a signature character for Thornton, and nobody quite plays surly like he does. While this is by no means a subtle movie, there’s a degree of nuance that Thornton brings to Willie that enriches the character. Things do get repetitive – there are only so many ways one can be belligerent. However, Thornton’s attempts to find the barely perceptible flicker of light deep within Willie’s blackened heart provide some surprisingly moving moments. It wouldn’t be Bad Santa without Cox’s double-crossing sidekick Marcus, and the two like each other even less than in the first film. It is generally funny, but again, the back-and-forth bickering can get tiresome.


The big coup here is Bates. Many comedy sequels have used relatives played by big names to continue the story, with mixed results, but Bates is just what Bad Santa 2 needs. In meeting Willie’s mother, we see just why he’s so screwed up. Sunny’s term of endearment for her son is “s***stick”, and Bates works her way through the script’s myriad profanities with aplomb. She fully understands the cynical spirit of Bad Santa and is a hoot to watch. It’s fun to see Sunny pretending to be a kindly old lady, dressing as Mrs. Claus for the charity, and then swiftly reverting to her mouth-like-a-truck-driver self.


Unfortunately, Lauren Graham couldn’t return because she was busy with filming the Gilmore Girls revival for Netflix. Our leading lady here is Hendricks, whose patented mix of sweet and sexy is a fine complement to Thornton’s gruff curmudgeon tendencies. Of course, even given Willie’s multiple shortcomings, he’s just catnip to the ladies and Diane falls for him. It’s fun to see Kelly return as Thurman all these years later. While there are a great number of jokes at the expense of Thurman’s apparent mental difficulties, his naivete and sweetness and the effect he has on Willie give the film a semblance of a soul.


A belated sequel to a popular comedy is a tricky proposition: in recent times, we’ve seen Anchorman 2 succeed, but Dumber and Dumber Too and Zoolander 2 fumble the landing. Bad Santa 2 takes another bite out of that acid-soaked candy cane, but there’s just enough character development from the first film. It is fun to see Willie, Marcus and Thurman return, with Bates’ brassy presence mixing things up.

Summary: As crude, mean and unapologetically funny as the first go-round, Bad Santa 2 avoids being merely more of the same thanks to Kathy Bates’ supporting turn.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Our Brand is Crisis

For F*** Magazine


Director : David Gordon Green
Cast : Sandra Bullock, Scoot McNairy, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Ann Dowd, Joaquim de Almeida, Zoe Kazan, Reynaldo Pacheco
Genre : Drama/Comedy
Run Time : 108 mins
Opens : 14 January 2016
Rating : NC-16 (Some Coarse Language)

On the electoral battlefield, only best-prepared campaign can emerge victorious. Political consultant Jane Bodine (Bullock) knows that the right campaign can turn even the unlikeliest candidate into a winner. Bodine is pulled out of retirement to manage the campaign of Pedro Castillo (de Almeida), an unpopular candidate running for the presidency of Bolivia. Together with her team Rich (McNairy), Ben (Mackie), Nell (Dowd) and LeBlanc (Kazan), Bodine has to yank Castillo’s polling numbers out of the abyss. Rivera (Louis Arcella), the candidate who is leading in the polls, has hired Pat Candy (Thornton) as his campaign manager. Candy and Bodine have a long, contentious professional rivalry and the desire to beat Candy spurs Bodine on as she rallies to get the Bolivian public on Castillo’s side. In the meantime, she befriends Eduardo (Pacheco), an idealistic young volunteer for Castillo’s campaign, endeavouring to better understand the situation on the ground.

            Our Brand is Crisis is an adaptation of the 2005 documentary of the same name. Directed by Rachel Boynton, the documentary recounted the role the Greenberg Carville Shrum political consultancy firm played in the 2002 Bolivian presidential elections. In the hands of director David Gordon Green and screenwriter Peter Straughan, the fictionalised account is a satirical comedy-drama.

This is an expectedly cynical work, built on the reality that political campaigns are basically branding exercises and that focus groups and demographic testing far outweigh the actual needs and concerns of the voting public. The humour is a way to make this more palatable, but it is hit and miss, resulting in a degree of tonal inconsistency. The out-and-out comedic set pieces, including stubborn llamas, a politician giving a speech from the back of a train and a bus chase that recalls Bullock’s Speed days, feel at odds with the bleakness of the entire political landscape. This approach sacrifices some depth, and Our Brand is Crisis is also guilty of deriving comedy from elements that are foreign to American audiences, which can be seen as insensitive. On top of all this, there’s a liberal sprinkling of pithy maxims, with Jane quoting from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

It’s a good thing then that star Bullock is there to hold it all together. The Jane Bodine character plays to all of Bullocks’ strength as a performer, with her dogged determination, suffer-no-fools attitude and the aspect of being a fish out of water. The character is an astute, aggressive go-getter and there are a number of shades for Bullock to play. The role was originally intended for a man, and then rewritten with Bullock in mind. The most intriguing parts of the film showcase the push and pull dynamic between strategist and candidate. De Almeida has mostly played villainous roles in American projects, and Castillo’s inherent unlikeability hammers home the point that Bodine is there to get a job done and not to ensure the “good guys” save the day.

The “bitter rivals” component with the comic one-upmanship that results from it feels like a largely superfluous attempt to make the story more engaging, with Thornton’s Candy coming off as little more than a moustache-twirling villain. McNairy, Mackie, Nell and LeBlanc do give the film some grounding as fairly believable members of the campaign team, conveying the idea that while “Calamity” Jane is their leader, she’s also a loose cannon who sometimes needs reining in. Pachecho delivers a vulnerable, sensitive performance as Eduardo and he is the representative of the common Bolivian citizen, though the character’s function in the narrative does sometimes lean on the manipulative side.

While not particularly insightful, there’s no denying that the subject matter of Our Brand is Crisis is fascinating. The film flopped at the U.S. box office, perhaps in part because it was sold as being “from the producers of Argo”. It’s a touch ironic that Our Brand Is Crisishad some issues with its own branding. The opportunity to explore grim, shady geopolitical realities in an impactful manner is eschewed in favour of petty revenge shenanigans and comedy that’s broader than it should be, but Bullock’s performance is just enough to string it all together.

Summary:While suffering from tonal issues and a lack of biting revelation into the seedy underbelly of the political campaign business, Our Brand is Crisis manages to entertain and smartly utilises the talents of its leading lady.

RATING: 3out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

The Judge

For F*** Magazine


Director : David Dobkin
Cast : Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Billy Bob Thornton, Dax Shepard, Sarah Lancaster, Leighton Meester
Genre : Crime/Drama
Opens : 16 October 2014
Rating : NC-16 (Coarse Language)
Run time: 141 mins
Remember when after the worst of his personal troubles and before his comeback as a marquee name, Robert Downey Jr. would star in dramas like The Singing Detective, A Guide to Recognising Your Saints and Charlie Bartlett (with the occasional The Shaggy Dog because he had to pay the bills)? The Judge, Downey Jr.’s first full-on drama in a while, harks back to those days. He plays Hank Palmer, a hotshot lawyer who reluctantly returns to his hometown of Carlinville, Indiana when his mother dies. He sees his brothers Glen (D’onofrio) and Dale (Strong) again but there’s one reunion he’s truly dreading: that with his estranged father, the titular Judge, Joseph Palmer (Duvall). Hank can’t wait to escape back to Chicago when he learns his father is accused of murder. Hank has to defend his father against prosecutor Dwight Dickham (Thornton) while father and son are at each other’s throats. Hank also takes the opportunity to mend other bridges and rekindle a romance with his high school sweetheart Samantha (Farmiga).

            If you’ve seen the trailers for the film, you might find it tonally hard to place. Indeed, this is a movie that has plenty of heavy family drama but begins with a moment of slapstick toilet humour. A character also experiences acute bowel function failure and it’s supposed to be a sad moment but it might be seen as unintentionally funny. It seems director David Dobkin was aiming for “bittersweet”, but misjudges this on several occasions. The screenplay by Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque piles on the clichés: tempestuous father-son relationship, the prodigal son returning against his will, the adorable little daughter whom our main character hasn’t been the best dad to, a mentally handicapped younger brother and a teen romance from which both parties have never really moved on, all set in a small town where everyone knows everyone else. It sometimes appears that the writers are aware of the overly-familiar, often sentimental nature of the script, attempting to temper this with wiseacre cynicism. This results in an uneven film that almost lurches from shouting match conflicts to a sappy home video montage set to Bon Iver’s “Holocene”.

There’s one cliché we left out in the above paragraph: that of the protagonist being a glib, sharp-tongued “man of Teflon” lawyer. Robert Downey Jr. attacks the role in his typical charismatic, entertaining fashion. He once described his take on Tony Stark as “a likeable asshole” and that’s a character type he excels at playing. Schenk and Dubuque have written lots of snarky, snappy dialogue for the Hank Palmer character, and lines like “I’ll extract the truth from your ass like tree sap” just sound great when they fly off Downey Jr.’s tongue. It’s nothing particularly risky for him but he’s far from sleepwalking through this one either. The big draw is seeing the two Roberts play against each other and Duvall once again proves why he’s considered a living legend. Judge Joseph Palmer is a proud, stern man who has suffered a personal loss and conceals his vulnerabilities, someone who has spent years in the courtroom but suddenly finds himself on the other side, standing trial. Duvall is able to cut through the overly-calculated moments of tenderness to deliver an affecting, thoughtful performance.

            While the film is squarely Downey Jr.’s and Duvall’s to carry, the supporting cast is generally decent too and Vincent D’onofrio’s role in this movie means that Iron Man and the soon-to-be-Kingpin are brothers. Farmiga, blonde, sporting a tattoo and pretty much unrecognisable, is convincing as the diner proprietor who finds herself falling for her high school sweetheart while still being very much wise to his ways. Dax Shepard plays the fumbling, earnest small-town lawyer/antique shop owner a little too broad and Jeremy Strong’s portrayal of the mentally-challenged Dale is cringe-inducing, though this is like due more to the way the character is written as the awkward comic relief than his actual performance.

            In addition to the performances, the cinematography by Janusz Kamiński, Steven Spielberg’s regular Director of Photography, is praiseworthy. With the way the film is lit and shot, Kamiński conveys the combination of small-town home and hearth with the feeling of feeling trapped in a place with too many bad memories associated with it. When the film and its cast was announced, there were murmurs of its awards potential, but this one is very unlikely to stand against the other films of the upcoming awards season. Director Dobkin, known for comedies like Wedding Crashers and Shanghai Knights, is at least a little out of his depth dealing with the family dysfunction and the courtroom drama in The Judge. However, thanks to the strong lead turns from Downey Jr. and Duvall, this is worth a look.
Summary: It’s unsubtle, cliché-ridden and slightly too long, but The Judge boasts the memorable onscreen father-son pairing of Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall.
RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong