Tag Archives: Billy Bob Thornton

I Want to Believe

Bad Santa 2

by George Wolf

Thirteen years after showing us that it’s probably not a candy cane in his pocket, Bad Santa is back for more naughtiness.

Thirteen years, really?

Yep, which is just one of the reasons BS2 smells more like desperation than inspiration.

The always charming Willie Soke (Billy Bob Thornton) is trying to end his miserable life when Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly) walks in to offer him a sandwich and let Willie know that his old friend Marcus needs a meeting pronto.

Marcus (Tony Cox) says there’s an easy score of at least 2 million bucks waiting at a charity in Chicago. All they have to do is put the old suits back on, ring some bells for donation money and then rob the safe on Christmas Eve. Once in Chi-town, Willie learns the part Marcus left out. They’ll be working with Willie’s long-estranged and equally charming mother Sunny (Kathy Bates), who has organized the whole plan.

Then Thurman makes the trip from Arizona to be with Willie on Christmas, and the gang is back together!

Well, some of the gang, but not nearly enough.

Part one was more than just a hilariously shocking mix of the sacred and the profane. Director Terry Zwigoff and original writers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa put some subversive social commentary alongside distinct supporting characters that were perfectly fleshed out by the likes of John Ritter and Bernie Mac.

BS2 finds director Mark Waters (Mean Girls, Vampire Academy) and a new writing team not thinking any deeper than being crude and having Kathy Bates in the cast. The characters are thin, the plot is contrived and few of the jokes find a mark. Worse than that, the bad boy charm from BS1 is long gone, replaced with an unsavory streak of mean.

And then there’s Thurman Merman. He was the MVP of Bad Santa, so you can’t really have a sequel without him, yet there’s no way to recreate that magic. Thurman was 8 back then, and his unending belief in a “bad” Santa created a sweet conflict that felt impossibly real and drove the film. Sure, it’s a kick to see him at age 21 but beyond that, the writers can’t seem to decide how the character fits in anymore.

Much as I wanted to believe in Bad Santa 2, it’s just too much of an empty suit.




So Much for Brand Names

Our Brand is Crisis

by Hope Madden

In 2005, with her film Our Brand is Crisis, documentarian Rachel Boynton unveiled the puppeteering that American political-strategists-for-hire undertake the world over. Her film followed James Carville’s team as they set their sights on putting their candidate in office during Bolivia’s 2002 presidential elections. With insight, cynicism, mirth and horror she detailed their “no wrong but losing” efforts – and its bloody aftermath – breathtakingly painting the way competition utterly eclipsed the good of a nation.

Director David Gordon Green takes a stab at updating Boynton’s tale, adapted by the generally quite wonderful Peter Straughan (Frank, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). They enlist Sandra Bullock as “Calamity” Jane Bodine, a longtime political strategist who, after a series of embarrassing losses and a spate of even more embarrassing behavior, has retired from the biz.

But she’s pulled out of retirement – What? No way! What’s the lure? It’s not the lame duck Bolivian presidential candidate supported by former colleague Nell and her partner Ben (Ann Dowd and Anthony Mackie – both embarrassingly underused). No, it’s the involvement of old nemesis Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton – the spitting image of Carville), lead strategist for the leading candidate.

An unkempt Bullock and slickly creepy Thornton offer fiery chemistry, and as long as they share the screen, Our Brand is Crisis captivates. But the film can’t decide whether it’s a political comedy, a change-of-heart drama, or an underdog thriller.

While Straughan is an almost sure bet, Green’s unpredictable thumbprint as director is more of a question mark. His best films blend comedy and drama with an almost poetic balance, but he cannot find his footing here.

Straughan’s uncharacteristically muddled writing sinks sharply comical jabs at our political machinery with an undercooked conscience, a patronizing representation of Bolivians, and an oh-so-tired White Savior routine.

Although Scoot McNairy is a hoot.

In retrospect, it’s hard to explain the hot mess that is Our Brand is Crisis. It had all the elements it needed to be a winner – talented director, wonderful writer, heavy-hitting cast. Sometimes, though, even a sure bet comes up a loser.


The Passion of The Streak

When the Game Stands Tall

by Hope Madden

The last time director Thomas Carter made a feature film, it was the inspiring true story of high school coach Ken Carter who, though leading an undefeated team, believed there was something more important to the future of his players than winning.

The filmmaker’s next effort really shows his range – because that movie was about basketball.

When the Game Stands Tall is the true story of Bob Ladouceur, probably the greatest high school football coach in history. He led his La De Salle Spartans to an unprecedented, quite likely unbreakable 151 game winning streak.

Carter is not known for his light hand at the helm. Indeed, this film has as manipulative and leading a score as anything since Remember the Titans, and the similarities don’t begin or end there. But he deserves credit for situating his story where he does, not focusing on the obvious victories, but mining the team’s more challenging, less glamorous time for the values that transcend the sport.

Jim Caviezel plays Ladouceur as a stoic, noble, righteous soul – because that is all Jim Caviezel is capable of. Luckily enough, it generally suits the role and he has other actors to appear humanlike around him.

The performances skirt cliché but are handled admirably. Laura Dern is the loving, ignored and concerned wife. Matthew Daddario is the coach’s son who just wants his dad’s approval, while Alexander Ludwig is the teammate whose volatile father only loves his son for the vicarious glory and accolades. It all sounds eerily familiar.

Carter also provides plenty of on-field play, and does a fine job of lensing it, though cinematic gridiron action may never look better than it did in Friday Night Lights. But that’s an altogether superior film. By comparison, When the Game Stands Tall looks downright naïve in its portrayal of athlete lives off the field, where they drink soda from bottles and make promise pledges with their chaste girlfriends in a town where fans are exclusively positive.

It’s an exceedingly passable product of a threadbare formula. It might even be enjoyable if Caviezel could muster the charisma necessary to carry the film. Unfortunately, Caviezel is no Sam Jackson or Billy Bob Thornton – and he sure as hell is no Denzel Washington- so his film feels more junior varsity than it might.


This Queue Is Mean..and Funny!

The underappreciated and underseen comedy Bad Words gets a fresh chance at an audience, releasing today on DVD. In his directorial debut, Jason Bateman plays a terrible man but an excellent speller in a squeamishly hilarious film that won’t cater to predictability or common decency. Bateman’s direction – like his film – is lean and mean. Bad Words is not for the sensitive or easily offended, but for the rest of us, it’s a refreshing piece of nastiness.


Need more jocularity at the expense of children? Why not dust off that ol’ Yule Tide classic Bad Santa? Madman Terry Zwigoff directs the most irreverent, mean and hilarious holiday film of all time,thanks in large part to flawless performances from Billy Bob Thornton, Bernie Mac, Cloris Leachman, Tony Cox, John Ritter, and of course Brett Kelly as Thurman Murman (“That’s your name?”). This screenplay bends to no one, but the film is an absolute classic of wrong, wrong comedy.