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Rules Don’t Apply • Moana

Bad Santa 2

November 24, 2016

Rules Don’t Apply (**)


Rules Don’t Apply, Warren Beatty’s much heralded return as a filmmaking force after an eighteen-year layoff, is a major disappointment considering the pedigree of both the subject matter and the creative talent behind the film. The film that was supposed to be Beatty’s long gestating project about the latter years of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes (nearly four decades in the planning) has somehow metamorphosed into a lackluster romantic comedy in which the Hughes character plays second banana in the onscreen proceedings.

The film’s main plot follows aspiring actress, Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins, daughter of pop star Phil Collins) as she auditions and wins a contract with the reclusive Hughes, who promises to put her in pictures as he did many actresses in his later years. Frank (Aiden Ehrenreich), the billionaire’s driver, has the hots for Marla but dares not to act on his feelings due to his boss’s ‘strictly business’ policy. If this plot sounds conventional and contrived that’s because it is and, as such, it serves to illuminate the lack of touch that Beatty, the filmmaker, seems to have with modern movie audiences.

Worse yet, from an editorial standpoint, the film seems to be in total chaos (four (!) editors are credited) as some scenes start and then end mid-scene with no connection to later plot points in the film.

Lily Collins in Rules Don’t Apply

It also doesn’t help matters that Beatty plays around with timelines in a way that makes no sense. For example, Hughes pilots the famed plane, The Spruce Goose, in a scene depicted in the late 1950s when it’s common knowledge that the plane was retired about a decade earlier. I could go on but you get the point.

Beatty doesn’t show up as Hughes on screen until about the twenty minute mark and he’s compelling enough when he’s on screen but it’s not enough to make the film palatable for its 126 minute running time. Especially when he spends most of his time playing second fiddle to such a hackneyed romantic triangle plot as the one contained in the film. As a result, Rules Don’t Apply is a sad misfire and it leaves one hoping that perhaps Beatty will rethink making this film his cinematic swan song. We deserve a better end to such a varied career.

Moana (** ½) PG

Disney’s latest family oriented opus, Moana, is further proof of the company’s systematic rubber-stamping of the majority of its animated film output. It’s pleasant enough and features some occasionally memorable songs, although it ultimately turns out to be too formulaic to distinguish itself from other Disney product.

It’s tolerable enough but you’ll be hard pressed to remember much about it ten minutes after you leave the theater, in spite of its earnest attempts at a female empowerment subtext.

Scene from Moana

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the father and original star of Broadway’s landmark musical hit Hamilton: An American Musical, provided original songs.

Dwayne Johnson turns in a lively voice performance as the demigod, Maui, who aids the teenaged title character, Moana (Auli‘i Cravalho), in her quest to save her people once their food supply becomes endangered. Along the way, they’re joined by the usual cast of cutesy animals who talk/sing and serve as comic relief of the most clichéd variety.

If nothing else, the film will prove once and for all that Johnson can belt out a tune, suggesting that he may have a future gig in the wings should the Broadway hit, Hamilton, be adapted into a film in the near future. 

Bad Santa 2 (**) R

Poor Octavia Spencer. Having the knowledge that it was only a handful of years ago since she was awarded a best supporting actress Oscar for her work in The Help, it’s saddening to see her returning as a prostitute in the low-brow sequel, Bad Santa 2. Yes, I realize that she’ll be appearing on screen in what is, hopefully, a meatier part in the upcoming drama, Hidden Figures. And, yes, I realize that she was in the original Bad Santa some thirteen years ago and, perhaps, was returning in the sequel as a favor of some sort. None of that matters because her role in the film is a microcosm of what’s wrong with yet another belated sequel to a certified cult classic that has attained a legion of fans over the years.

Bad Santa 2 tries its best to capture the lightning in a bottle found in the original film by reassembling most of the major cast members who are still among the living (RIP Bernie Mac and John Ritter). The writing team assembled for the sequel-the original writers and director, Terry Zwigoff, wisely opted to skip this one-try really hard to attain the subversive/raunchy atmosphere of the original film. Instead it comes across as rote and flat and, mostly just desperate. At times you can almost envision the flop sweat dripping from the writers as they attempt to get all the mileage they can squeeze from the unique characters created for the original film. It’s true that if you are fan of the original Bad Santa you’ll probably enjoy revisiting the characters after a thirteen year absence. Once that novelty wears off, however, the film reveals itself to be the pale imitation of the original that it truly is.

As the film opens, Willie (Billy Bob Thornton), the titular character, has just been released from prison. He’s living in what is best described as a hovel and his girlfriend (Lauren Graham from the first film, seen here only in a photo) has broken up with him.

Billy Bob & Brett Kelly in Bad Santa 2

His lone human connection is Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly). Thurman, of course, is still as childlike as he was in the first film except now he’s twenty one and still acting like the wide eyed, innocent eight year old he was in the first film.

Willie’s old partner, Marcus (Tony Cox) eventually reconnects with him and concocts a scheme to rob a crooked charity of its profits with Marcus donning his Santa suit once more. Things get complicated when Willie realizes that Marcus’ other business partner is none other than Willie’s own mother (Kathy Bates). Of course the film stops seemingly every few minutes or so in order for Willie to have intercourse with whoever happens to be around at the moment or some shenanigans of the sort.

It’s really something to think that Bad Santa 2 contains the combined talents of three former Oscar winners and, yet, they all seem to be on auto pilot. The whole endeavor reeks of post production tampering by the studio and, perhaps, that’s where the trouble lies. As it stands, Bad Santa 2 isn’t likely to leave viewers with a hankering for a third visit from this version of Saint Nick.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at



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