The opening of Bad Santa 2 feels exactly right The first movie gave its degenerate, safe-cracking mall Santa a glimmer of a happy ending, an absurd outcome for a man who had screwed and robbed and drank and cursed his way across a large swath of the Phoenix metro area. 12 years later, Bad Santa 2 finds its antihero back at rock bottom; alone, drunk, and broke. In a despairing voiceover, Billy Bob Thornton croaks out a treatise on the absence of happy endings in life — or any endings at all. Life, his Willie Soke muses, just goes on and on, consistently sucking forever. Then he writes a suicide note on an old pizza box and sticks his head in an oven.
It’s no wonder Paul Hawkins’ debut novel, The Girl on the Train, novel was quickly pegged “the next Gone Girl,” and that DreamWorks scooped up the rights a year before the novel hit shelves. It’s a murder mystery told by an unreliable narrator full of twists, sex and violence. It has all the makings of a hit. But here’s a hot take: despite topping the bestseller list, Hawkins’ book isn’t good. Piggy backing on the hype of Gillian Flynn’s work, the novel uses a gimmicky narrative structure to glorify melodrama and violence. That could’ve been salvaged as a high-intensity thriller that indulged in the trashy source material, but director Tate Taylor’s (The Help) adaptation falls ill to the same shortcomings of the novel, resulting in a sluggish mess of self-seriousness.
Even by the standards of a biopic about an incredibly famous man at the center of an incredibly famous real-life event there isn’t a ton of suspense in Sully. Everyone who was alive and conscious on January 15, 2009 remembers what happened that day, when Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger safely landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River after the plane was struck by birds during takeoff.(I certainly do; I’d just arrived at my condo for the Sundance Film Festival and watched the rescue efforts unfold on live television.)
Like every other Pixar release, Finding Dory opens with a short film. This one is called “Piper”; it’s about a little bird learning to hunt for food among the scary ocean waves. It’s a terrific showcase for Pixar’s latest advancements in computer animation, which in recent years has taken on the qualities of great nature photography. The sunlight sparkles against the water, which ripples and flows with uncanny accuracy, and when the little bird kicks a pile of sand in a crab’s face you can practically count the individual grains.
The original Star Wars was driven by nostalgia for pulp magazines, Saturday-morning serials, and a simpler era with clear-cut heroes and villains. The new Star Wars is driven by nostalgia for the original Star Wars, and a simpler era when that title evoked words like “adventure” and “excitement,” and not words like “the taxation of trade routes,” and “Jar Jar Binks.” The characters in Star Wars: The Force Awakens are all searching for something of great importance to the galaxy far, far away. I won’t reveal what this MacGuffin is, but I will tell you what it represents: that old Star Wars magic. Can director J.J. Abrams and the rest of the saga’s new creators find it?
There’s a gigantic sea monster! There’s Chris Hemsworth’s muscular and skeletal frame! There’s harpoons and storms and dolphins and waves and adventure! There’s even a British man (played by Ben Whishaw) narrating the story as told by another very talented actor (Brendan Gleeson). By the sounds of it, In the Heart of the Sea must be a whale of a tale. But sadly, Ron Howard’s latest falls very short of its epic endeavors.
Jennifer Lawrence was 24 when she shot Joy. Her character, Joy Mangano, was 34 when she invented the Miracle Mop and became one of the first stars of the QVC network. This fact remains inescapable throughout Joy. Lawrence remains watchable in Joy because, as one of our best young actors, she can’t help but be watchable. But she’s totally miscast as a divorced mother of two who’s been repeatedly beaten down by life’s disappointments. This part was meant for the Jennifer Lawrence of a 2025, not the one of 2015.
How good does a movie have to look to offset its other deficiencies? The Revenant is as beautiful a movie as has ever been made. The photography by master cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki is inconceivably gorgeous; sweeping wide shots that juxtapose tiny, insignificant men against the overwhelming grandeur of nature, close-ups so intimate they seem like invasions of the actors’ privacy, and action sequences of shocking violence.
“The way I imagine it, after the fight, he’s riding home in a cab, with the roar of the people chanting ‘Rocky!’ still in his ears. And he just drops over dead. In other words, he has achieved everything possible and he dies when he’s on top. I don’t think people want to see Rocky when he’s 80.”