'Bad Moms' and a gay icon

By Tom Von Malder | Feb 12, 2018
Photo by: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment Mila Kunis (back), Kathryn Hahn (left) and Kristen Bell liven up Santa's day at the mall in "A Bad Moms Christmas."

Owls Head — A Bad Moms Christmas (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 104 min.). Last week, it was Tyler Perry giving us a belated Halloween that could not scare up a laugh, now we have a Christmas movie delivered in February that is funnier, but also crass and tries too hard. At least "Bad Moms" answers the question of what Justin Hartley has been up to since he played Oliver Queen/Green Arrow on "Smallville." While he looks hot, his acting skills seem to have deteriorated. (OK, he also has a recurring role in TV's "This Is Us," but I have never watched the show.)

The film is a sequel to 2016's "Bad Moms," also directed and written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, and starring Mila Kunis as Amy, Kristen Bell as Kiki and Kathryn Hahn as Carla. In the first film, the three overworked and underappreciated mothers bonded to go on  a wild binge of fun and self-indulgence. This time, the stress comes from all the preparation for Christmas and the annual visits by their own mothers: Christine Baranski plays Ruth, Amy's mother, whose expectations Amy can never live up to; Cheryl Hines plays Sandy, Kiki's far too-clingy parent; and Susan Sarandon plays Isis, Carla's mother who is still living as if she were a hippie and only visits when she needs money. Isis claims to have been a roadie for REO Speedwagon for 15 years. Ruth drags along her own husband, Hank (Peter Gallagher). Amy is dating Jessie (Jay Hernandez), while Kiki is married to Kent (Lyle Brocato) and Carla is unattached.

The film is raucous and raunchy and provides some laughs as the three gals get drunk and go crazy in the mall, and who knew families could have so much fun at an indoor trampoline park (shout out to Sky Zone). Carla works at a salon spa, where she mostly waxes genitalia. That is how a naked Hartley is introduced, as he plays exotic dancer Ty, in town for a show of stripper Santa Clauses. What little characterization there is centers around the difference between generations and expectations. Most developed is the relationship between Amy and Ruth. Seventy-five minutes in, the film turns very serious very suddenly, but the script has not done enough earlier work to make the moments matter.

Wanda Sykes has a funny cameo as Dr. Karl, and Christina Applegate of TV's "Married With Children" (1987-97), whose type of character Kunis kind of replaced in "That '70s Show" (1998-2006), has an even briefer cameo. The actors do a group dance during the closing credits. Bonus features include a gag reel (6:36; some fun stuff); additional brief scenes (3:52); and a crew music video (2:25). Grade: film 2.25 stars; extras 1.25 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Tom of Finland (Finland, Kino Lorber, Blu-ray or DVD, NR, 116 min.). This biopic tells the life of Finnish artist Touko Laaksonen, whose drawings under the pen name Tom of Finland shaped the fantasies of gay men for a generation and influenced art and fashion. He championed the black leather look with his drawings of bikers and policeman, as well as sailors and other fantasy figures. His drawings contain both raw sexuality and humor. The film is directed by Dome Karukoski and written by Aleksi Bardy, based on a story by Bardy and Karukoski. Karukoski's next project is "Tolkien," another former soldier who went on to create a world of imagination with "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit."

Laaksonen, who lived from 1920 to 1991, drew mostly in black and white, pencil drawings with exquisite shading. He worked for awhile in advertising for McCann Erickson, before devoting his time to his homoerotic drawings, which he first used to signal his interest in other men during casual meetings and then began selling internationally by mail. The film paints a dim picture of how homosexuality was repressed in Finland, where it was a crime until 1971 (it still was a crime to promote homosexuality until 1999). We first see Laaksonen (Pekka Strang) serving as a soldier in World War II (his stabbing of a Russian paratrooper became a key moment in his life) and meeting other like-minded soldiers during walks in the woods. One of them is a captain, who will later help Laaksonen out of a jam in Berlin, after his drawings and wallet have been stolen. The captain, by then a diplomat, hosts all-male "poker" parties back in Helsinki. We also see police raids against men who loiter in Helsinki parks, trying to make a connection.

Other than police persecution, the only real drama comes when dancer Veli "Nipa" Makinen (Lauri Tilkanen) rents a room from Laaksonen's sister Kaija (Jessica Grabowsky). Laaksonen, who lived with his sister, had met Veli earlier for casual sex, and while Kaija became smitten with Veli, it was the two men who eventually developed a relationship, one that lasted 28 years. The film's most telling moments are when, after having sold some drawings to homoerotic physique magazines in America, Laaksonen visits the United States for the first time. The contrast between the restrictive gay life in Finland and the exuberant, out gay life in California is astonishing. When the AIDS epidemic hits the homosexual population, Laaksonen's book sales go down and he feels a bit of guilt as his works had  helped create the hypermasculine gay subculture.

The film, which was Finland's unsuccessful entry for an Oscar nomination, spends too much time on Laaksonen's formative years, making the shift to his successful public years a bit jarring. Some of his art work is shown during the film, and it is much more graphic than any of the film's action. Bonus features include four deleted scenes (7:07; the best shows Laaksonen leaving his ad agency job); Discussion at the Tom House, a piece on Laaksonen's time spent in California and his art (10:31); a brief look at the I Am Tom of Finland ad campaign, as Finland finally celebrates its famous son in conjunction with the film's release (2:03); three interviews with Durk Dehner, co-founder of the Tom of Finland Company (12:25; he tells how Laaksonen seeing Marlon Brando wear a black leather jacket influenced his work and life); and aTV special that looks at the film's research (3:08). Grade: film 3.25 stars; extras 2.5 stars

Sebastian (Canada, Wolfe DVD, NR, 83 min.). This gay romance succeeds  more than it should due to the chemistry and likable performances of the two leads. James Fanizza, who wrote, directed and served as a producer, plays Alex, a would-be artist who makes ends meet by working in a coffee shop. Alex House plays the title character, a week-long visitor to Toronto, after studying in the United States for some time, before he heads home to Argentina. When the two run into each other, an instant attraction is recognized and acted on. The problem is that Sebastian is the cousin of Nelson (Guifre Bantjes-Rafols), who has been Alex's boyfriend for more than a year.

In a few short days, a genuine love grows between Alex and Sebastian, even though Alex never intended more than a brief fling. Alex shows Sebastian around Toronto (I recognized several locations from my visits to the city in the 1970s), including a stop to see his friend Xenia perform in drag. Xenia is played by Brian McCook, aka Katya from "RuPaul's Drag Race" and "The Trixie and Katya Show." The pair also discuss the competing merits of Joni Mitchell and Marian Carey, with Alex supporting the Canadian singer-songwriter. Alex tells Sebastian that he is not really into Nelson, despite their ongoing relationship. Then, Nelson returns home early from his conference and catches his boyfriend and cousin together.

The film is dialogue heavy, but keeps moving. Toronto is Fanizza's home town, and he obviously has affection for it. The only extra is a Katya outtake reel (5:04). Grade: film 3.25 stars; extra dog

Hidden Kisses (France, Breaking Glass DVD, NR, 90 min.). Continuing the world tour is this well made, sensitive French film about the hardship and bullying a French high school student suffers after a photo of him kissing another boy at a party is posted online. Nathan (Berenger Anceaux) is 15 (he turns 16 during the film) and the new kid at his high school. While not out, Nathan is comfortable with his homosexuality and, when texted by a classmate (Jules Houplain of the French version of "Eyewitness" as Louis) at a party, meets him in the garden, where they kiss and are caught on camera phone.

Nathan is the only one recognizable in the photo. When he goes to school the next day, he is the subject of gossip, laughter and taunts. Things eventually become physical during the week as he is beaten in the lockerroom, even by Louis who is tryinmg to maintain his peer pressure facade. Meanwhile, Nathan's father, Stephane (Patrick Timsit), a police officer, is shown the photo by a female co-worker, whose daughter also was at the party and posted the shared photo among other party pics. Even though he did not know about his son's orientation, widower Stephane handles the situation much better than Louis' parents (Bruno Putzulu as Bruno and Barbara Schultz as Corinne) when they find out. Bruno, a physician who sees homosexuality as a choice or even a disease, is particularly harsh to his son, whom he had been training as a boxer. Louis, who is more confused about his gay feelings, has a girlfriend (Lisa Kramarz as Laura).

An English teacher (Nicolas Carpentier as Tristan) tries to help Nathan, and he encourages the female math teacher (Catherine Jacob) to come out as a lesbian and tell of her own bad experiences in high school  to encourage Nathan to believe that things will get better. While Nathan takes the bulk of the punishment initially, it is  Louis whose life becomes threatened through the abuse and marginalization he encounters at home -- Bruno even forbids their youngest son from spending time with Louis. The performances are realistic and the two young leads are engaging. The film is directed by Didier Bivel. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 3.5 stars

Reset (China, Well Go USA, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 106 min.). Jackie Chan's name is prominent on the DVD cover, but he is only a supervising producer, not an actor for this science fiction action film. Set seven years in the future, it is a time when two rival research companies -- IPT Lab in America and Nexus Corp. in China --  have unlocked the keys to travel into parallel universes. Somehow, travel to further away parallel universes is like traveling back in time, but only 50 to 60 minutes can be accomplished.

An aside here. I cannot wrap my head around the supposed science of the film. If one has to travel to a far away parallel universe to travel back in time, how is it one actually travels back in time in the main universe of the story. Unless maybe they travel again through the machine in the parallel universe to get back to the original one? If that is the case, it is never adequately explained in the film, which ends up having three versions of the same person interacting. The film seems to indicate time travel and parallel universes are the same thing, which is nonsense.

IPT carried out secret human trials in 2025, which led to a slaughter at their facility when a person from a parallel universe went berserk, killing people and destroying their research. The slaughter was covered up, but now ITP has hired an agent (Wallace Huo as Tsui Hu) to steal Nexus' research. Tsui manages that by kidnapping the son (Yihan Zhang as Doudou) of Nexus' lead scientist (Yang Mi as Xia Tian), giving her one hour to provide all the research or Doudou will die from an explosive device implanted in his neck. Oh yeah, Tsui also has sent operatives into the Nexus facility to plant 11 bombs. When Doudou dies in the current reality, Xia goes back in time to try and save him. When that fails, she tries again, with something different happening each time, so it is not exactly "Groundhog Day."

There are several good action sequences in the film, including a car chase and Tsui chasing Xia through what appears to be an abandoned mall. Watch through the credits, as the film has a coda. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 2 stars

Chasing the Dragon (China, Well Go USA, Blu-ray + DVD or standard DVD, NR, 128 min.). The film is notable for pairing Donnie Yen, who wins in acting chops here, with the oh-so-busy Andy Lau, and for the fact that Lau again plays corrupt Hong Kong police Det. Lee Rock, as he did in the "Lee Rock" trio of films. Yen, playing a real person, is an illegal immigrant from Mainland China who becomes ruthless drug lord Crippled Ho.

The film begins in the early 1960s, with the British in control of Hong Kong and apparently casting a blind eye to any corruption, as long as their rule is not challenged nor any of their citizens harmed. One of the most brutal of the British is officer Ernest Hunter (Bryan Larkin). Ho and his four "brothers" are hired to cause some mayhem during a large gang fight, under the eye of Hong Kong's leaders, including Hunter and Rock. Hunter goes down into the fight and is beaten by Ho, who impresses Rock. While Hunter takes his revenge while Ho is in lockup, Rock takes the battered fighter under his wing and the film traces their respective rise in the police and triads.

Ho first goes to work for drug dealer Chubby (Ben Ng) and is given Kowloon Walled City as his territory. At one point, Rock is in Kowloon looking for a suspect when Master Dane is assassinated during their parlay. Ho rescues Rock, but his leg is so severely damaged  that it becomes shorter than the other, and thereafter he is known as Crippled Ho. The drug dealing becomes more complicated when the British insist Rock divide the business among four principals rather than two, and there is a change in the drug supply leadership in the Golden Triangle.

The film's violence is often and sudden, giving it more of an American gangster feel. American music is used to good effect, particularly songs by Earth Wind & Fire and Donny Hathaway's "The Ghetto." Again, the film has a coda during the closing credits. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 3 stars

The Cat O' Nine Tails (Italy, 1971, Arrow, Blu-ray + DVD, NR, 111 min.). The film was director/co-writer Dario Argento's follow-up to his successful debut with "The Bird with the Crystal Plumage" and would be part of his so-called "animal trilogy." The suspense film has a very American feel -- in the extras, Argento says he was disappointed in the film because it was "too American" -- probably in part due to the casting of two American actors as the leads. The well-plotted mystery, co-written by Argento with Dardano Sacchetti and Luigi Collo, is one of Argento's tamer films.

Karl Malden ("On the Waterfront") plays Franco Arno, a blind puzzle maker who is called "Cookie" ("because he is so sweet") by his niece (Cinzia De Carolis as Lori). One night, he and Lori are walking home, when Arno overhears two men talking in a parked car, with one telling the other he hopes he does not have to blackmail him. That night, a guard is knocked out and the nearby Terzi Institute for Genetic Research is broken into, although it appears nothing was stolen. Showing up at the scene the next morning is newspaper reporter Carlo Giodarni (James Franciscus of "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" and TV's "Mr. Novak"), who accidentally bumps into Arno on the sidewalk.

When a scientist from the research institute dies when hit by a train, Arno contacts Giodarni, thinking the man might have been pushed, which the photo negative proves, but then the photographer is killed and the negatives stolen. This leads Arno and Giodarni to work together to solve the mystery, even though there are attempts on both their lives and Lori is eventually kidnapped.

The film also stars Catherine Spaak ("Il Sorpasso") as Anna, whom Giodarni gets involved with, and Rada Rassimov ("Baron Blood") as Bianca, the dead man's fiancé, whose apartment has weird wallpaper. Among the characteristic Argento touches are his use of the killer's point of view for the camera and up-close images of the killer's eye. There also are two fun moments during a car chase. The first interviews each of the sleuths conduct are not shown either. One of Giodarni's later interviews takes place in a gay men's club. The film features an unsettling, but brilliant score by Ennio Morricone.

The film is presented in a new 4K restoration, with original mono Italian and English soundtracks. The subtitles for the Italian soundtrack are a new translation. The feature comes with new audio commentary by critics Alan Jones, author of "Dario Argento: The Man, the Myths & the Magic," and Kim Newman. There are new interviews with actress De Carolis (not seen), co-writer Sacchetti (34:46; it was his first film), and Argento (15:57), all in Italian with subtitles. Sacchetti talks about his often difficult working relationship with Argento and his work with filmmaker Mario Brava, while Argento discusses filming in Turin and at the newspaper where he previously worked. There also is an interview with production manager Angelo Iacono (15:11) and a look at the original epilogue ending via the script pages (3:09). Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 3.25 stars

Opera (Italy, 1987, Scorpion Releasing Blu-ray, NR, 107 min.). For its Blu-ray debut, Dario Argento's classic is presented only in English, but with a new 2K restoration. The film plays up Argento's love of music -- the plot involves the staging of an avant-garde production of Verdi's "Macbeth," an opera that Argento would later stage two productions of himself -- as well as his penchant of staging gruesome murders in the most artistic way possible. The film contains elements of both Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" and "The Phantom of the Opera," the latter of which Argento made a version of in 1998.

This was Argento's 10th film and familiar stylistic touches include close-up shots of eyes -- this time of the ravens used in the Verdi production -- and the killer's point-of-view as the camera sweeps through the backstage portions of the opera house (filming was in Parma). Particularly striking is a gunshot sequence. We learn in the extras that the reason the diva Mara is never shown in the film is that Lynn Redgrave was hired for the part, but only paid for one particular week's time and she left after that week, before ever being filmed.

Mara storms out of a rehearsal, particularly annoyed by the ravens, and is struck by a car, giving understudy Betty (Cristina Marsillach) her big break (no pun intended). Betty, in turns out, has a secret admirer, who becomes a serial killer. After his first kill -- a stagehand -- he believes he has been spurned by Betty and thus he starts killing her friends and co-workers, forcing her to watch each murder by tying her up and taping pins to her lower eyelids. The creepy thing is her being tied up and witnessing a murder is the subject of recurring nightmares Betty has had since childhood. During the film, Betty seeks solace from stage manager Stefano (William McNamara of "Dream a Little Dream"), director Marco (Ian Charleson of "Chariots of Fire") and agent Mira (Darie Nicolodi). Investigating the murders is Inspector Alan Santini (Urbano Barberini), who first introduces himself to Betty as a fan, after her debut performance in the opera.

While the identity of the killer is predictable, there is an effective red herring involving a small child. Also, the film is excellent stylistically, one of Argento's best. The music includes rock of the period and some tunes written by Brian Eno for the film. Again, the bonus features include a new interview with Argento (21:41), who says this is his favorite of his films. Real ravens were used and cinematographer Ronnie Taylor had won an Oscar for "Gandhi" (shared with Billy Williams) in 1983. There also is an interesting new interview with actor McNamara (16:44), who says he got the part because he already was in Italy filming the miniseries, "The Secret of the Sahara." It is McNamara who tells the Redgrave story. Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 3.25 stars

George Gently: The Complete Collection (Great Britain, 2007-10, Acorn, 13 Blu-ray discs or 25 DVDs, NR, 37.5 hours). The acclaimed BBC detective drama is based on the novels of Alan Hunter and stars Tony Award nominee Martin Shaw as Inspector George Gently, assisted by his partner, Detective Inspector John Bacchus (Lee Ingleby). Gently investigates crimes while confronting the social and political changes of the mid-1960s. Gently is an honorable, world-weary London cop who is ready to quit the force when his wife is killed in a hit-and-run that his colleagues treat as an accident. Gently suspects otherwise, but "the Met" (the London branch of Scotland Yard) has become so bureaucratically inept or corrupt that Gently can barely stomach the place. Most of the Met officials regard Gently as a self-righteous prig. When Gently gets a chance to head the Criminal Investigation Division for Durham County in northeast England, he takes it and he is paired with the bright, but inexperienced Bacchus, whom Gently attempts to mentor in doing honest police work.

Each set contains all 25 feature-length mysteries from all eight series of the production. Guest stars include Richard Armitage ("The Hobbit" trilogy), Phil Davis ("Poldark"), Kevin Whately ("Inspector Lewis"), Helen Baxendale ("Friends"), Mark Gatiss ("Sherlcok"), Mark Williams (the "Harry Potter" films), Eamonn Walker ("Oz"), Jemma Redgrave ("Bramwell") and Warren Clarke ("Dalziel & Pascoe"). Lisa McGrillis ("Hebburn") later joins the team as forward-thinking constable Rachel Coles. There are 34 minutes  of behind-the-scenes featurettes; interviews with Shaw and series 7 guest stars (9 min.); a 10-page booklet with historical information about the 1960s; text interviews with Shaw, Ingleby and writer/executive producer Peter Flannery; production notes from producer Johann Knobel; historical facts about 1964 and 1969; and a photo gallery. Grade: complete series 3.75 stars; extras 2.75 stars

Girlfriends: The Complete Series (2000-08, CBS/Paramount, 25 DVDs, NR, 59 hours 49 min.). Starring Tracee Ellis Ross ("Blackish"), Golden Brooks, Persia White and Jill Marie Jones, the series is about the lives of four friends in Los Angeles. As they follow their individual dreams, they stay true to themselves and each other. The sitcom aired on UPN and then its successor, The CW. Ross plays lawyer Joan Carol Clayton, the unofficial "den mother" of the group, looking out for her friends at the expense of dealing with her own problems. Brooks plays Maya Denise Wilkes, Clayton's former assistant, now a housewife and author. White plays Lynn Ann Searcy, Clayton and Toni Marie Childs-Garrett's roommate at UCLA and who has lived with Clayton for the eight years prior to the series' start. Jones plays Childs-Garrett, Clayton's friend since childhood.

Bonus features include a look at creating the show, getting the cast together, a gallery episode guide for season two, a look at the clothes, a look at the wedding episode, Mara Brock Akil comments on select episodes and a bonus episode from "The Game: Away Game." Akil created and executive produced (with Kelsey Grammer) the series. "The Game" was a spin-off series.

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