Friday, July 16, 2004

Thursday movie reviews!
‘Bad Santa’
There’s never been a more appropriate title for a movie than “Bad Santa.”
This Santa is more than just mean — he swears, he fornicates, he insults little children and he steals. Oh, and sometimes he passes out drunk while kids are sitting on his lap.
This Santa movie, definitely for adults only (let me emphasize that — it’s NOT FOR CHILDREN), is a rude, crude sputtering raspberry to traditional holiday cheer. It’s also wickedly funny, although probably a little too extreme for many viewers.
Billy Bob Thornton, that superb character actor, is Willie, an angry, alcoholic con man, who for one month out of the year plays a lousy Santa Claus at various shopping malls. He doesn’t do this because he’s secretly a jolly man, but because he and his elf partner Marcus (Tony Cox) rob the malls every Christmas Eve and live off their ill-gotten gains the other 11 months of the year.
But Willie’s drinking and self-loathing is getting out of control, making it difficult for the hoods to even pull off their crimes. Clearly he’s at the end of his rope. Throw in a Santa-loving, borderline demented outcast kid (Brent Kelly) and it’s likely this will be Willie’s worst Christmas ever.
Thornton is hilarious and repulsive as one of the most unlikable characters you’ll ever see. There’s a rumor floating around out there he actually was drunk during most of the filming of the movie to better get in character. Now that’s dedication.
“Bad Santa” is a very quotable future cult classic, although not for mixed company. It may feature the “f-word” more than any film since “Scarface.” Perhaps the funniest line in the movie is one I can’t even print here, but it revolves around a Santa-obsessed bartender (Lauren Graham, a long way from TV’s “Gilmore Girls”) and what she shouts out when Willie and her are, ahem, “intimate.”
It’s a movie for all those who get sick of “Jingle Bells” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” being shoved down their throat starting around Labor Day each year.
Yet “Bad Santa” kind of overstays its welcome after the film’s main joke settles in. It’s a short, 90-minute movie, but still feels about 15 minutes too long. There’s only so much rotten, amoral behavior most can watch, and the movie can’t resist a somewhat redemptive ending that feels like a cheat.
But for lovers of bad taste, and the Grinch in all of us, most of “Bad Santa” is a comic present worth opening, if only to gawk at its unrelenting ugliness.
*** of four

Serial killing is mostly a man’s world — or at least, so it was thought until Aileen Wuornos came along.
Wuornos, a prostitute who killed at least seven men in Florida in the 1980s, was executed for her crimes in 2002.
Now, “Monster” attempts to look at the woman inside the killer. Charlize Theron, best known as the sexy love interest in movies like “The Italian Job” and “The Cider House Rules,” utterly transforms herself to become the heavyset, bloated and corrupt Wuornos. It’s a stunning performance that won her the Academy Award for Best Actress this year.
“Monster” is a somewhat fictionalized look at the final downward spiral of Wuornos, who went from a youth of abuse to a life as a prostitute working Florida’s highways. When one of her “johns” turns violent, she kills him. Then she discovers she’s developed a taste for murder.
The angry, alcoholic Wuornos says she “isn’t gay,” but she ends up in a strange co-dependent lesbian relationship with Shelby, a meek young college girl (Christina Ricci) who has been kicked out of her parents’ house for her “unnatural affections.” Wuornos’ life is teetering on the edge, and clearly about to collapse.
This is a brutal, painful movie. Relentlessly bleak, “Monster” wallows in the dark corners of life most of us can’t even think about. It’s often hard to watch, such as when Wuornos, burdened by a lifetime of abuse, tries to get herself straight with a series of failed, desperate job interviews.
“Monster” is smart in that it shows a faint belief in redemption and hope, and it ultimately is a heartbreaking tale. It’s a strangely affecting, doomed love story.
Theron deserved her Oscar, pulling a real “Marlon Brando” here to turn herself into a different person. She adopts a hunted, angry look, using a combination of makeup and old-fashioned acting to emulate Wuornos’ tortured figure. It’s a portrait of a woman who’s rarely known genuine affection, filled with hatred of the world. Her eyes are fiery and pained like a mad dog’s.
One troublesome point is how the movie, written and directed by Patty Jenkins, half-heartedly tries to defend Wuornos’ indefensible actions. The first killing Wuornos committed is shown here as an act of self-defense after she is horribly raped and beaten — but the court records are inconclusive as to what actually happened. Part of “Monster” feels like it tries to portray this as her revenge on the evils of the male society that created her.
Despite this lapse, “Monster” pulls little punches in making it clear Wuornos was still a monster, pathetic and sad though she also was. It’s gripping drama and a look at a seamy, sick world most of us couldn’t even imagine.
***1/2 of four

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