Written and directed by Ian and Eshom Nelms, “Fatman” is a weird little Christmas movie with an absurdly dark story premise. Mel Gibson stars as Santa Claus in this one, figured I should get that out of the way up top since that may be the love it or leave it factor for some. Though for anyone curious, Gibson plays the role with a grumpy and gruff sincerity, nothing too crass or patently ridiculous here, in fact that extends to the whole atmosphere of the film. While everyone acknowledges the fantasy elements at hand, everything is played down and more realistic than you might expect. The hook of the story is that a spoiled rotten rich kid (Chance Hurstfield) hires a hitman to kill Santa Claus after receiving a lump of coal for Christmas. That hitman just so happens to be played by Walton Goggins.
Most of the film is dedicated to setting up the particulars of the world and the eventual showdown between Goggins and Gibson. Once the kid sets Goggins on his journey to track down Santa Claus, our time is spent between the Hitman’s strange quirks and Santa’s financial woes. Goggins imbues the contract killer with a personal grudge against Santa, he too received coal as a kid, and thus he obsessively collects children’s Christmas gifts made in Santa’s workshop. Santa on the other hand is caught up with a bit of a cynical attitude at first, more and more kids are ending up on the naughty list than ever before, and the government is tearing up their contract with him, it’s enough to drive Santa to the bar- literally. Santa ends up having to make a new contract with the Military to stay fiscally solvent, and it’s enough to get him back to the punching bag to take out some of that stress. By his side is the lovely Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Mrs. Claus who plays the part as a true partner and a calming presence. I really enjoyed all of the little things in this film. The fact that Santa drives a faded old red Ford pickup truck from the 1970’s made me crack a grin. I also loved that Gibson’s Santa is truly a cookie fanatic in a few scenes, playfully grabbing cookies off of Mrs. Claus’s plate even after she tells him he’s had enough. There’s a lot to enjoy here in this world. We also get a few scenes early on that establish the Hitman’s skill and efficiency, something to consider him a real threat once he finally arrives on Santa’s property in Northern Alaska. When the Hitman does comes across Santa’s path, the movie finally lives up to the potential that the premise promised us.
Once the shootout between Gibson and Goggins begins, it feels like the films is suddenly directed by Quentin Tarantino! There’s a beautiful wide angle shot of the two of them standing across from each other, drifts of snow and piles of chopped wood lay between the two. It’s definitely the scene that was pitched when trying to sell the screenplay I’m sure. The whole film leads up to this scene, and it lives up to the expectations. It’s a thoroughly entertaining film that doesn’t stay mired in the darkness that comes with the ideas in play. It’s a little different than your average Christmas movie, but it’s all the better for those differences. If you’re looking for a fun way to pass the time this Holiday season, this one’s worth your time! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Over Christmas Break I went on a random binge of movies. This monstrous marathon of magnanimous movies provided an atmosphere both mystifying and majestic. Or at the very least, this assortment of titles were just a fun way to pass the time with a few friends and family in a decidedly noncommittal viewing over the Holidays. Thus, these films that lay before you aren’t exactly the peak of artistic expression, but they were quite fun! Sometimes that’s all you need, and given the year we all just suffered through, I figured a less academic series of films was warranted in rounding out this terrible, downright awful, hell of a year.
Written by Ted Sherdeman, based on a story by George Worthing Yates, and directed by Gordon Douglas, “Them!” is a cheesy 1950s giant monster movie that’s exactly as complex as you might expect. However, that’s not why you watch these movies anyways. In my experience, giant monster, or Kaiju, movies are for either A) Enthralling spectacle, or B) Practical effects that are admirable but wonderfully, gloriously, bad. These aren’t necessarily films with narratives that leave you in awe, or writing so compelling that it makes you question the morality of man, though the original “Godzilla” still has that effect. “Them!” is one of many similarly styled genre movies that exploded onto the silver screen in the 1950s, partly due to the King of the Monsters influence, but also partly as audiences felt an urge to gorge themselves on escapism after the second world war left many craving sheer entertainment value over other more taxing dramatic themes. Obviously, that’s not a sweeping statement, but it is part of my understanding of the era, there are many, many, examples that fly in the face of that thesis though. “12 Angry Men”, being an excellent example against it (https://spacecortezwrites.com/2019/03/21/old-school-review-sidney-lumets-12-angry-men-1957/). “Them!” begins with two police officers discovering a young girl wandering by herself in the New Mexico desert. After examining several scenes of curiously destroyed structures the officers alert the right officials which kickstarts the rest of the film’s momentum. There are many staples of the genre that find their way into this film, one example being the two scientific experts in Dr. Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn) and his daughter Pat (Joan Weldon) who go to great lengths to explain the enormity of the problem with giant ants to the Military Brass and Government officials. The short version is simply; unless we destroy this menace, we will face the annihilation of the human race. After diving into the giant ants nest in the desert and mercilessly gunning down the monsters, they discover that two flying queens have escaped! One brood is found on a battleship at sea and essentially bombed to the ocean floor because, well, its the only way to be sure. The scientists, generals, and cops eventually pinpoint the final nest underneath Los Angeles, deep in the sewer systems. They save a few kids and kill every last squirming giant insect in their paths! I also enjoyed this film on the basis that it partly inspired the gameplay and atmosphere of the video game series, “Earth Defense Force” (Which I highly recommend!). You probably know by the poster alone if this is your sort of thing or not. Solid practical effects for it’s time, over-the-top violence, and cheesy black and white monster movie goodness. Recommended!
The Thing from Another World (1951)
Written by Charles Lederer, adapted from the story Who goes there? by John W. Campbell Jr, and directed by Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks, “The Thing from another World” is a fun 1950’s sci-fi thriller that John Carpenter would eventually remake roughly thirty years later. This one has always been on my list because of its relation to Carpenter’s film, which I would classify as a modern masterpiece of sci-fi horror. However, I did not know that Howard Hawks himself had a hand in producing and even directing some scenes of this one. If you’re aware of Hawks’ style of rapid pace dialogue with snappy attitude, you’ll recognize that influence here immediately. The first departure from the Kurt Russell version that I noticed was the flip in polar geography with this film taking place near the North Pole whereas Carpenter’s was set in Antarctica. The actual titular Thing (James Arness) was also wildly different. This monster was humanoid in form, still an alien as in Carpenter’s version, though this one wasn’t a shapeshifter, but instead a figure that was composed of a plantlike matter and obsessed with growing seedlings in the scientist’s onsite green-house. The “breathing” plant babies was also kinda creepy looking and fun. This one’s pretty straightforward in plot and execution, much like “Them!”, but this film had better characterization (the little of it that was present) and is probably a better made film overall even though I may have enjoyed “Them!” a bit more. Mildly recommended if you enjoy old school genre sci-fi!
King Kong (1976)
Written by Lorenzo Semple Jr, from an idea conceived by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace, and directed by John Guillermin, “King Kong” is a reimagining of the 1933 King Kong film with a 1970s twist to the whole affair. Out of all the “King Kong” adaptions that have come and gone over the decades, this one is…. fine. It’s not my favorite Kong flick, but it was solidly entertaining throughout. If you’ve seen any of the other standalone Kong movies, with “Skull Island” being the exception here, the formula is the same with details and characters changing every so slightly. There’s always a Blond, Dwan (Jessica Lange), that Kong grabs and is mesemerized by. Check. There’s always a male lead that has a character defining goal to joining the voyage to Skull Island, Jack Black’s film director character took on that role in Peter Jackson’s rendition of the film in 2005, and here that role belongs to Jeff Bridges’ Jack Prescott. Check. Bridges does a fine job as the moral authority figure who challenges the oil executive spearheading the journey to the island, Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin). Yes, this time they go to Skull Island for oil, or at least, they believe the island holds a bounty of black gold underneath it. The practical effects that bring Kong to life were a lot of fun and it textured the fantasy of the film with a suitably 70’s grit. The monarch ape even fights a giant snake to the death in a surprisingly violent sequence. Once they get to New York it’s only so long before Kong escapes from his shackles, grabs Dwan, and heads for the tallest building he can find, which for this film, is two very famous towers in Manhattan proper. I’m always surprised when seeing the Twin Towers in the New York Skyline in older movies, it seems so long ago now that whenever you see them in Seinfeld re-runs or older films like this it kind of jolts you awake for a second. Anyways, the violence hinted at in the snake fight earlier comes full circle here when helicopters with gattling guns shoot an ungodly number of bullets into Kong once atop the towers. It has to be the famed creature’s most violent death by a mile. All in all, it was a fun alternate universe “King Kong” movie, if you like giant monster movies, this one should suit you just fine. Though I have to be point out that the scenes with Dwan and Kong do seem to take a bit too long for my money. If you’re patient and enjoy the “King Kong” story, I’d recommend this one!
The Great Race (1965)
Written by Arthur A. Ross and directed by Blake Edwards, “The Great Race” is a surprisingly long, and incredibly silly, vehicular race around the world from New York to Paris! A friend of mine wanted to revisit this comedy from his childhood over Christmas so we did just that. This one will not be for everyone, and that’s okay. For one, this movie is almost three hours long, and there’s an absurdist comedic tone running throughout the entire film that’s reminiscent of Looney Tunes, The Three Stooges, and Vaudeville theatrics. So, if you’re not into that, this ain’t the movie for you. The film was inspired by the real life 1908 race from New York to Paris, though I doubt the real one had a massive pie fight in a tiny Eastern European country near the end. The film stars Tony Curtis as Leslie, the charming heroic daredevil. Which kinda blew me away as the only film I knew him from was “Sweet Smell of Success” which is a VERY different kind of movie (https://spacecortezwrites.com/2020/02/06/old-school-review-sweet-smell-of-success-1957/). Then there’s Jack Lemmon as Professor Fate, a literal mustache-twirling-villain whose also a turn of the century daredevil that considers The Great Leslie to be his eternal competitor for fame and glory. Fate’s antics should be familiar as it’s quite similar to any cartoonish villian that’s ever existed. Though there’s more than a few performance notes that made me wonder if Jim Carrey was actively homaging Lemmon’s “Fate” for his role as Dr. Robotnik in the “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie. The third major character is that of Natalie Wood as Maggie Dubois, a suffragette campaigning for the women’s right to vote and representation in the workforce who makes her way into the race and ends up riding with both Leslie and Professor Fate during various points of the race. This movie is simply a cartoon in live-action form, and if that’s your thing, go for it. Somewhat recommended.
The Monuments Men (2014)
Written by Grant Heslov and George Clooney, based on the book of the same name by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter, and directed by George Clooney, “The Monuments Men” is a World War Two film that charts the course of older academics and professors that enlist in the line of duty to recapture Europe’s cherished stolen masterpieces of artwork. This one was a delight, it may not have done anything extremely outstanding with it’s execution in direction, writing, or even in performance, but it was just good enough in all categories to be thoroughly entertaining. I missed this one when it was in theaters and have always meant to give it a watch, but just never got around to it until now. I’ve gotta say, it was solid. The film follows Frank Stokes (George Clooney) as he convinces the military to fund and fuel a small operation to go into active warzones in France, Belgium, and Austria to recover and return culturally famous paintings, sculptures, and fragments of buildings. The unit, nicknamed The Monuments Men, consisted of museum directors and curators, art historians, and an architect. While initially being scoffed at by men in the field who refuse to coordinate bombing patterns and plans of attack that may cost them time and manpower, the team begins to gain success and acclaim after recovering a veritable treasure trove of stolen artwork hidden in abandoned mines that the Nazis left behind in their retreat. Though eventually after the war begins to come to a close the team has to race against the clock as Hitler eventually orders the artwork left behind to be set aflame and destroyed forever. My interest in this one was essentialy driven by the casting, and everyone involved did perfectly fine in their roles, though no one truly stood out from the crowd. Sometimes you just wanna see Bill Murray, John Goodman, and George Clooney together in a World War Two film with lower stakes than your average war film, and that’s okay. Moderately recommended.
Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution Kizuna (2020)
Written by Akatsuki Yamatoya, adapted by Jeff Nimoy, based on a story by Akiyoshi Hongo, and directed by Tomohisa Taguchi, “Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution Kizuna” is a series ending film that takes the characters from the original TV show that aired in the 1990s and caught up with them as adults in their mid to late twenties with a story that was far more compelling than I ever expected. To be fair, I was unaware of Digimon’s apparent resurgence over the last few years. I was told by friends after our viewing that while this film does an excellent job serving as a return to the series after the initial run back in the 1990’s, this was the capper to the new “Digimon Adventure” reboot series that used the same characters, themes, and voice actors from the American release (I’m sure the original Japanese voice actors returned as well in some fashion, but I watched the english dub version, which I only do so in certain situations, otherwise it’s subtitles all the way for me! #Nostalgia). We’re reintroduced to most of the original characters as adults, but with a heavy focus on Tai, Matt, and Izzy. Some of the original Digi-destined have succeeded in their professions of choice, Joe is a Doctor, Izzy runs an advanced tech company, and Sora runs a popular internet startup company. Tai and Matt however have drifted a bit, they’ve stuck closer to their roles as protectors of the worlds both digital and earthly. Early on Tai, Matt, and Izzy are clued into a wider phenomenon affecting other digi-destined kids around the world with their Digimon evaporating out of thin air while each human counterpart is instantaneouly placed in some sort of coma. So they investigate, and eventually discover that everything is tied to another former digi-destined, now an adult. As it just so happens, the bond between Digimon and their human partner is strong because of the potential that children have. As they age and become adults, that potential wanes, and thus they begin to lose that connection until they become permanently separated from each other. There are some damn good themes and imagery as the film goes on. The villain, who also had a Digimon partner and lost them prematurely years ago, is trapping the other Digi-destined in crystalized forms of their most cherished memories, and our heroes must learn how to grieve, accept loss, and adulthood in it’s many shapes and forms. This film has more emotional maturity than the majority of films I’ve seen over the last few years, and that was shockingly satisfying. Oh, and the quality of the animation is 100% slicker and more polished for this film, this one’s a perfect (in my opinion) love letter to the series. If you grew up with this cartoon as I did, this is delightful, sad as hell, and I couldn’t have asked for a better send off to characters that I thought I’d seen the last of more than a decade ago. Highly recommended.
Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)*Slight Spoilers*
Written by Dave Callaham, Geoff Johns, and Patty Jenkins, and directed by Jenkins, “Wonder Woman 1984” is the superhero sequel to one of DC Comics’ most popular and adored characters. Okay, so initially I wasn’t going to toss the Wonder Woman sequel into this Rapid Fire Review piece, but it was the last movie I watched during my “Christmas Smorgasbord”, so here are my thoughts. First and foremost, I will point out that I really enjoyed the first “Wonder Woman” quite a bit. It was a fine Superhero movie and I legitimately enjoyed the characters and the story being told. This movie, however, is far messier and shockingly mediocre. There are some really well done sequences and scenes here and there, I really enjoyed the opening action sequence in the Mall, or when Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) saves Barbara (Kristen Wiig) early in in the film from a scummy guy in the park, that was shot in really neat way. Unfortunately that’s how the whole film operates, there’s an inordinate amount of questionable story decisions being made at every corner, but some scenes are downright cool and have some neat artistry to them. Like previously stated, it’s shockingly mediocre. The character performances were entertaining enough, but they lacked depth. Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), despite being cheerfully hammy in his villainy, didn’t really seem to have any consequences to almost destroying the world. His motivations seemed flat at best, I mean sure, he’s greedy and ‘wants‘ greatly, but his plan didn’t seem to have any coherance other than, “create as much global chaos as possible“. Steve Trevor’s (Chris Pine) part in all of this was sweet and endearing, the two leads still share a magnetic charisma. So, I do understand wanting to have them together in the sequel, but it was handled so strangely. For example, if he was brought back to life through the power of magic, why did he have to inhabit another man’s body to do so? None of the other wishes in the film come with such strange caveats, other than the general “Needful Things” tit-for-tat repercussions for wishes- which Diana does eventually get as her powers lessen over time. Which by the way, speaking of Maxwell Lord, the performance from Pedro Pascal was quite good, but the way he is used throughout the story, especially his resolution in the third act, felt incomplete and somewhat confusing. The inconsistency of the wishes really threw a wrench in the plot machinations if you think about it for too long. Oh, and we can’t forget Cheetah, the superhero sequel pre-requisite side villain who’s mishandled throughout the film. She… uhhh doesn’t really have much of a purpose in the movie and essentially only exists for Wonder Woman to fight in the third act and I have to be honest, the CGI used to bring Cheetah to life was laughably bad, and I mean, it’s just… plain bad. So, if you’re willing to shut your brain off during superhero movies, this one MAY be for you, but personally, this one was not for me. Not highly recommended.
This year has been unnaturally awful, particularly in America, but the world over as well it seems. From Brexit to Harambe and from politics to the losses of some of our most beloved entertainers like David Bowie and Alan Rickman, it seems pretty clear across the board: 2016 has just been the worst. I say, let’s end it all… with Christmas cheer! What follows is not all an “All Time” or “Top Ten” Christmas movie list, but rather what I will be watching in the twelve days preceding the 25th in order to wipe the last 11 & 1/2 months from my mind. Some are age old classics, others are purely what I enjoy. Maybe you’ll find something old to cherish, or something new to love. Or maybe not, either way; chill out, and lets just watch movies.
Set in 1980’s New York Bill Murray stars as Frank Cross in this modern retelling of Charles Dicken’s literary classic, “A Christmas Carol”. Cross is a massively successful television executive whose particularly curmudgeonly behavior drove away his one time love Claire Phillips (Karen Allen). The story follows as you might expect this being one of many “Carol” modernizations and remakes over the years. Cross fires an employee (Bobcat Goldthwait) on Christmas Eve and is then met by an old ghostly friend warning him of his wrongdoings, and subsequently met by three Christmas Ghosts. Bill Murray is great as always, the excess of the eighties is ever present, and there’s plenty of dark humor to go around.
2 How The Grinch Stole Christmas (Live Action + Animated)
One of my personal favorites, “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” is one of Dr. Suess’ most infamous creations. Here I am counting both versions as one as they are both classic and entertaining in their own right. With rhymes and whimsy abound in every which way, this tale is about a Grinch who decided he had something to say, he growled, with his Grinch fingers nervously drumming, “I MUST find some way to stop Christmas from coming!” From then on songs and antics abide by the festive nature until the Grinch has a change of heart when learning that the whos, thus having their christmas stuff swiped from them, stood together in song and celebration. Proving a timeless classic to remind us that the flair and advertising associated with Christmas can be fine, but it isn’t the point, the meaning of Christmas is more than just the gifts found under the tree, as the Grinch came to realize, “It came with out ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!” Don’t get caught up in the hype just let it be, and if you can, go forth and enjoy some who-pudding and rare who-roast beast!
Will Ferrell embodies the pure Joy that children experience around Christmas in “Elf”. When Buddy (Ferrell) is accidentally transported to the north pole as a baby he is raised by the elves of Santa’s workshop. As Buddy grows to be a man he increasingly finds himself ostracized by the other elves and feelings of not fitting in begin to flourish. Eventually he is told the truth and he sets out to New York City to find his real father. Walter Hobbs (James Caan), is a cynical New York businessman that ends up harboring his chaotic new son after confirmation via blood test. “Elf” quickly became a christmas classic from the early 2000’s as it earned its place among the numerous Christmas movies by leaning on Ferrell’s bombastic performance, but also from having a solid director in the form of Jon Favreau with a stellar cast on the sidelines. Ed Asner plays Santa, Zooey Deschanel plays Jovie (Buddy’s love interest), There’s also Peter Dinklage, Amy Sedaris, Andy Richter, Kyle Gass, Artie Lange, and Ray Harryhausen in a voiceover role. Unless you’re a complete Scrooge or a total Grinch you’ll likely find something to love here.
4 Jingle All The Way
Perfectly mimicking the real life toy craze of the “tickle-me-Elmo” toy at the time “Jingle All The Way” follows Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad playing two desperate fathers racing around town attempting to buy their sons the last of the popular Turbo Man toy. This slapstick favorite mirrors a popular christmas tale theme of materialism and to what length we will go to find that perfect gifts for our families. If you wanted Christmas, Comedy, and Arnold Schwarzenegger along with Sinbad.. well actually that’s a pretty specific “want”, and I’m pretty sure this is the only film to include all of that. Anyways, it’s a fun, mindless, Christmas comedy, enjoy!
5 The Night Before
This treat of a Holiday comedy came out last year and is an excellent mixture of modern comedy and the Christmas season. Starring an unexpected triad of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anthony Mackie, and Seth Rogen “The Night Before” focuses on the three lifelong friends as they set out to find the Nutcracka ball, a Holy Grail among Christmas parties. As the three find that they’re entering adulthood, their longstanding tradition is coming to an end thus making this a last ditch effort to make the night as memorable as possible. Plenty of laughs and a good hearted spirit to it all, this is Rogen’s best appearance in a film over the last few years. If you found “The Interview” or “This is The End” to be somewhat lacking I suggest this flick, it should raise your barometer for modern comedies.
6 Die Hard
Not just one of the greatest Action movies of all time, “Die Hard” also happens to take place on Christmas. I know, a bit of a cheat, but it’s something I’ll be watching. Plus it’s good to remember a time when Bruce Willis actually wanted to be in movies instead of begrudgingly waiting for his check to clear. It’s also especially nostalgia filled nowadays with our recent loss of the endlessly talented Alan Rickman. “Die Hard” is one of the best films to come out of the 1980’s and it still holds up to this day. As an added bonus you get to introduce younger family members to the wellspring of 1980’s action at its best. Merry Christmas indeed.
7 Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
Okay, okay, so it’s two cheats in a row. Shane Black has a tendency to set his films during the wintry holiday, but I promise you- this one is worth the watch. It’s a wonderful treat to see Robert Downey Jr. pre-Iron Man, as thief-mistaken-as-an-actor Harry Lockhart. The story follows Lockhart as he winds up embroiled in a complicated murder mystery with Val Kilmer as private-eye Gay Perry and Michelle Monaghan as struggling actress Harmony Faith Lane. It’s a wonderfully entertaining flick and one of Shane Black’s best works.
8 Tree Man
This documentary follows Francois, the infamous “Tree Man” from Quebec that travels down to New York City each November to stay for a month and sell many New York natives their Christmas trees. This was a relative break from the rest of the films on this list as it examines how the season of joy effects those in the business of making their livelihood from it. The Doc begins and ends with Francois but once he arrives in New York the film meets and follows many of the other tree sellers in the community. As it goes on you begin to see the ripple effect of how the arrival of the tree man brings the anticipation of tradition and the warmth of community, even on the corner of Broadway and 102nd street in Manhattan.
9 The Ref
Are you one of those people that may enjoy the holiday, but hate having to spend it with your relatives? Then “The Ref” might just be the Christmas movie for you. The film stars Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey as Caroline and Lloyd, a particularly argumentative married couple with Denis Leary as Gus, a thief on the run from the cops. We start the film with Gus in the middle of an affluent suburban heist when his getaway driver leaves him stranded when the cops show up. Gus manages to escape and bumps into Caroline and Lloyd in a convenience store on their way home from marriage counseling. From there the film takes the hostage situation to a comedic gold mine as Caroline and Lloyd happen to be expecting guests for their Christmas dinner. Full of neverending bickering from every family member the film eventually descends into dragging every character’s flaws, excuses, and past mistakes out into the open as Gus pretends to be their marriage counselor while crafting an escape plan. It’s a dark but hilarious jab at familial controversy (for the early 1990’s anyway) and the facade people create for their families- but especially the in-laws.
10 A Muppet Christmas Carol
Honestly this is a fairly straight up rendition of “A Christmas Carol”, but with the Muppets! This is my favorite version of the Carol story, not simply because of the practical effects of the puppetry (Although I do appreciate it), nor the warm and wintry feelings associated with this tale, but rather the whimsical nature of the late Jim Henson’s creations. There is a certain goodness among the characters that permeates their productions. Henson worked hard to avoid the easy route of cynicism and anger, and it shows even in the works his crew and family took on after his passing. This is the time of year when that attitude is needed most, to get through whatever bombardment life throws at you. Take time to thank those who have helped you, meditate on your place in the world, make an effort to be more humble, and take the spite out of your mouth. The world has enough of that as it is. That’s why I included a muppet entry, not simply because I enjoy it, but because I mightily respect the creators of these appropriately childish affairs.
11 It’s a Wonderful Life
Possibly the most replayed Christmas movie of all time, besides “A Christmas Story”, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is one of my all time favorite Christmas movies. Growing up I never saw this film, somehow unknowingly avoiding this decades old classic, but a few years ago I wandered upon it late at night on Christmas eve. As someone that lives in a small town and frequently dreams of moving away and traveling the world (Some of this I had already done before this viewing), I could relate to George Bailey’s plight. As someone always willing to help, George’s circumstances in life always ended up preventing him from seeing those dreams come to fruition. He sacrificed his own education for his brother’s, kept the family savings and loan afloat, protected the town from the avarice of the greedy banker Mr. Potter, and married his childhood sweetheart. However when things turn fiscally dark for George Bailey he contemplates suicide as an option to give his family something to live off of. Just then, an Angel appears, not in traditional heavenly garb though, and intervenes to show George Bailey what life would have become for the residents of Bedford Falls if he had never lived. It’s a timeless classic and I highly recommend giving it a watch if you, like me, had never stumbled upon it until recently.
12 A Very Murray Christmas
Might as well end the marathon the way we started it, with Bill Murray. Harkoning back to the variety shows of old Murray, in a traditionally meta wink to audiences, is throwing a christmas special but is down on his luck when he realizes that a heavy snowstorm will prevent his guests from arriving in time. His in-show special falls to pieces and he ends up heading to the bar where more showtunes with celebrities and bands continue to appear as the night progresses. The special includes the likes of George Clooney, Paul Shaffer, Amy Poehler, Julie White, Dimitri Dimitrov, Michael Cera, Chris Rock, David Johansen, Maya Rudolph, Jason Schwartzman, Jenny Lewis, Rashida Jones, Miley Cyrus, and the band Phoenix. As a plus, the special is directed by Sofia Coppola-look her up if you don’t know who she is.
The wintry season brings with it the promise of gift giving, hordes of homemade delicacies, and generally warm and fuzzy sensations. This year comes a movie that would like to share the creepy side of the Christmas legend, the titular demon occasionally known as the shadow of Santa Claus, Krampus. The story opens on a wonderfully comedic montage in a typical big box store as consumerism mayhem reaches a violent fever pitch in stereotypical Black Friday style. From here until the end the message is clear to all who enter this tale, don’t let cynicism overwhelm you and make you lose hope, lest darker things come to bump in the night.
‘Krampus’ centers on the Engel family (I see what you did there writers) as they begrudgingly welcome the rest of their family into their home for the Holidays. Things go awry when young Max Engel’s letter to Santa is discovered by his country bumpkin cousins who proceed to make fun of him for his continued belief in the big guy. Max then goes to the dark side by dashing his hopes that this Christmas could be reminiscent of the good ole days by ripping up his letter and throwing it out the window. Thus summoning Krampus to befall the home in a malevolent blizzard.
Directed by Michael Dougherty, ‘Krampus’ succeeds on several fronts. Firstly the production should be praised for its use of practical effects. They offer a far more palpable approach to something that is clearly a lower budget film among such giants as the Marvel Machine and the pop culture phenomenon Star Wars, which we will all be obsessed with shortly. It is refreshing to see such a reliance on costumes, props, and prosthetics. Krampus in particular is always a powerful and creepy presence onscreen. Secondly, the cast all do serviceable performances while not going too over the top, here’s looking at you David Koechner! Adam Scott was a standout to me as he wasn’t playing his typical obnoxiousfoil in comedies such as ‘StepBrothers’. He really sold me as the father that truly cared despite life taking its toll on him, his family life, and his marriage. Toni Collette also helped the film to stand taller through her performance as well. The two matriarchs of the film, Conchata Ferrell as Aunt Dorothy & Krista Stadler as Omi Engel, have wildly different characters and performances, but they both add to the piece as comedic relief and emotional weight respectively.
My problem with Krampus is that while it is clearly inspired by such 1980’s horror comedies as ‘Gremlins’ and the like, the film does little more than dip its toes in those waters without delivering the extra punch of scary goodness that we all want. As a PG-13 rating the film gets away with some admittedly creepy sights and beats, but it doesn’t quite get to itch that particular scratch. Walking out of the film my first reaction was that if it had gone full ‘R’ with some over the top gore it might have sold me more as a Christmas-Horror flick, but as it stands it was more like a fun ‘What if?’ Christmas tale. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the film, just that it could have gone farther in the direction that it was headed. There was also too much reliance on Krampus’ minions over Krampus himself. He was a captivating presence every time he was onscreen, but his moments were too fleeting in my mind.
There’s also the issue that almost all of the characters are not terribly likable, thus the audience almost roots for Krampus in the end and we have little to no remorse over the carnage that ensues later. The notable exceptions being Max and his grandmother, Omi. There was a singular moment in which Omi, (remember, all the Engels are the good characters) tells Max that the belief in Santa Claus is not so much based on the details about the man himself, but rather what Santa Claus represents, hope, goodness, & the sacrifice of giving. In fact that last part leads me to my biggest issue with the film.
The ending of the film leaves something to be desired though. Especially with the ‘sacrifice of giving’ lesson that Omi introduced in the third act and follows through til the end. Does the ending undermine that lesson? As I see it, yes. The lesson might have been learned, but if there isn’t any staying power in a message, then what is the point? I suppose as a Christmas tale, as well as it being ‘Horror-inspired’, then it must end with those expected warm and fuzzy feelings. The ending simply felt too predictable and a bit lacking to me.
So, if you’re a fan of campy creature features, and don’t mind a Christmas twist, then you’ll likely find merit within ‘Krampus’. Happy Holidays readers!