Monthly Archives: December 2015

“Hateful Eight” Roadshow is an oil painting of wonder and blood

Not just a movie. It is an experience!

Not just a movie. It is an experience!

In regards to my recent experience with Quentin Tarantino’s latest Western, “The Hateful Eight,” I didn’t come back from seeing just a movie. I came back from seeing an experience. Something that I will never see again in my lifetime unless another tries to duplicate it. So I come before saying that I didn’t just see one of the best movies this year but present to you a review of one of the best “film” and theater experiences I have ever witnessed in my life. Like Haley’s Comet flying above our heads in one night, this is the kind of experience that is worth seeing for the dire hard cinema fans. Just because you go to the movies, doesn’t mean you get a great movie going experience. The latest offering from the controversial yet engaging film fan brings to the table what he feels should be the ultimate theater experience. And sadly, I doubt other studios will follow suit. But rest assured I can’t be more thankful to witness a spectacle of amazing cinematography and gritty bloodshed.

Kurt Russell and Samuel L. Jackson are caught in a tussle of trust

Kurt Russell and Samuel L. Jackson are caught in a tussle of trust

Set during a post Civil War, Kurt Russel plays a bounty hunter named John Ruth who sets his sights on going to the little town of Red Rock to turn in an outlaw for reward money. The little darling Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is set to be hanged but pulls a feisty personality even if she does get hit for it. Along the journey in a six horse stagecoach, they run into the town’s soon to be new sherif Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) an African American Major named Marquis Warren (the always warm-welcomed Samuel L. Jackson). Both characters set their sights on going to the small town as the reluctant John has them on board.

This descends into a long sequence of these four despicable people playing of each other while the coach rider (James Parks) carries on through the snow. As they talk and exchange some dark dialogue expressing their personalities, we feel a part of this as the carriage rocks back and forth and a slew of racist commentary is present. This sets the tone for the rest of movie as we know we can’t trust these people. We merely watch them knowing they can’t stand each other’s guts and wonder how much they can stomach each other. Some may consider this portion of “Hateful Eight” long but I feel it adds to the cold and harsh environment. Trust the last thing you would expect from a racist sheriff, a Major with tall tales and a bounty hunter that holds no shame in beating up a defenseless woman with a criminal record.

Tarantino setting up the dinner scene in the little lodge where most the movies takes place

Tarantino setting up the dinner scene in the little lodge where most the movies takes place

With a powerful blizzard on the march, the four have no choice but to see refuge in a stagecoach lodge placed in the middle of nowhere. As they make an uncomfortable stay for the night, they have to deal with a British hangman with the personality of a snake oil salesman (Tim Roth), a bigot Confederate General (Bruce Dern) that is selfish, a shy cowboy (Michael Madsen) and a Mexican (Demian Bichir) that acts like the butler of the place. As the snow piles on, suspicion raises among the group as they start to wonder how “welcoming” these people are. And as expected, it all descends into traditional Tarantino fair with extremely graphic violence and some big twists that will keep viewers on the edge of their seats.

“Hateful Eight” is a straight to the core and nearly flawless film with engaging storytelling and breathtaking cinematography. The whole narrative has a throwback feel to not just Westerns but also classic mysteries and traditional “old dark house” features where people would gather at a single place and start to either back-stab each other or show their true dark nature. We get instead is a combination of many things as one starts to suspect the other and the once the body count increases in Act II, the tension raises as we start to wonder who will be left standing.

The only element I can think off that might turn viewers off is not just the usual overabundance of gore (as heads explode and some get badly gunned down), but the racial tension along with some mistreatment towards the female lead. I didn’t mind this much seeing this is meant to be a true gitty Western along the lines of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven and the 2010 remake of True Grit. There are no limits in preserving how harsh and cruel the past was. To be fair, the racism has a point of existing for one character arch that works very well. Just keep in mind nothing is held back and those sensitive might be turned off.

As for the rest of “Hateful Eight,” I can’t praise this movie enough. I love the characters and desolate location. I like the idea and concept of pitting these terrible people that all have a connection to each other. They don’t get along well and it makes the interaction all the more engaging. You don’t know if one will be successfully teamed up with another or if betrayal is on the horizon. Its well acted, as Kurt Russel sprouts a John Wayne-ish accent that gives nostalgic flair, beautifully shot on 70mm film and hands down the best of the year.

The incredible Somerville Theater. Worth a visit if your in the Boston area

The incredible Somerville Theater. Worth a visit if your in the Boston area

Now something I must point out is that if you plan on seeing “Hateful Eight,” I highly recommend viewing this the way Tarantino meant it to be. Photographed on actual film and in Ultra Panavision 70, Tarantino went to great lengths to have this presented on theaters with 70mm projectors. As a result, nearly 100 theaters nationwide are given a special “roadshow” presentation of the movie that hasn’t been done in over fifty years. For those too young, a “roadshow presentation” would be a gala showing of the movie where viewers would dress up like they were attending a Broadway play and be giving a free souvenir program. The presentation would be complete with an opening overture, a 10 or 15 minute Intermission and a brief piece of music before the beginning of the second act. Not only that but even certain scenes that would be included in this version only which would later be removed for its general release.

The auditorium seating from the inside gives a very unique feel as if one were transported to the past

The auditorium seating from the inside gives a very unique feel as if one were transported to the past

I was able to attend a screening of the 70mm, 3 hour Roadshow cut in Somerville Theater near the Boston district and for that one hour drive, it was worth it. I can’t even begin to explain how incredible it was. The inside of the theater was basic yet felt like an old fashioned theater. The ticket price was reasonable seeing a $12 matinee price for a 70mm presentation is not that bad considering the majestic treatment. And probably the first and only snack bar I have attended that has handmade ice cream. Let me tell you, two scoops of peppermint ice cream was perfect to have once the Intermission was over. But most importantly the care and craftsmanship really shinned here with the auditorium seating giving you that nostalgic feel of what previous moviegoers were experiencing decades ago.

On top of that, the film presentation of “Hateful Eight” is the true star here. I can’t tell you how much I have missed seeing traditional film being projected onto a large cinema screen. Dare I say the lighting from the projector almost gives this warmth glow for scenes in the small lodge as small drops of sunlight pour in. Even texture and detail on faces and clothing really pop at you in a near 3D presentation. In fact, the presentation almost makes you feel like you are part of the movie. When Marquis points his gun out to the camera, we feel the tension of his hand on the trigger as if he was interrogating us. Even outdoor scenes as the carriage trots in the snow and wide shots of the lodge work well with every shot filled with characters and things that literally swallows us into each frame. Compared to digital film which looks flat, the film presentation gives more depth and perception as if we are seeing an oil painting come to life.

The special souvenir program that was handed out to audiences attending. Truly a wonderful memento to an enchanted evening

The special souvenir program that was handed out to audiences attending. Truly a wonderful memento to an enchanted evening

The only nitpick I do have is the lack of parking save for some coin meter spots and a “private property” lot. Unless there was a parking lot close by and it was missed, I can safely say there were a few open spots with a coin meter so all was not a loss aside from some quarters. But looking pass the one hour trip down and the lack of solid parking, it was all worth it just for this incredible experience. If you live close to a theater exhibiting the “Roadshow Cut,” chances are you might want to catch it while you still can. Or at least check to see if your local theater is presenting this 70mm film version. If you have no availability to this version, the only elements missing in the General Release Cut (according to some reports) is the Overture, Intermission, a special souvenir booklet, six minutes of scenes Tarantino deemed would be better viewed in 70mm film and the ultimate experience of a lifetime. Despite what version you see, “Hateful Eight” is a great way to end 2015 with an explosive and gory bang.

New “Star Wars” good entry but lacks something

star-wars-force-awakens-official-posterIt has been a decade since “Revenge of the Sith” and my thoughts were simple. Six films were all that was needed in the Star Wars canon. There was no way they could make a new set of films or even a new one period. The cast was too old and I didn’t feel there was anything else to explore in the franchise. Sure there were tons of worlds but considering the fan fiction and “Expanded Universe,” I didn’t think there was a possible way to make a new movie at the time. And when Disney bought the rights from creator George Lucas, I still didn’t think it was possible. Well one way or another, they did it. They were able to make a seventh entry in hopes of making a new trilogy from what I hear.

I went in, had my “Dark Crystal” t-shirt on (lost my Star Wars shirt. still fitting seeing 33 years ago that movie came out on the 17th of December), treated some friends of mine and watched the movie. My reaction will be quite different from what many will expect. But let me say off the cuff that this is a Star Wars movie. There are elements and things that I can look at and say this is something I can picture in the Star Wars universe. The planets, alien beings and spaceships are Star Wars elements. But as far as the rest of the movie goes, it makes for a good entry. Not a great entry along the lines of “Empire Strikes Back,” but at least respectfully better than the prequel trilogy.

Star-Wars-7-Character-Guide-Finn-ReyWithout ruining too much, “The Force Awakens” has plenty of interesting elements and story ideas. I dig the idea of a stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega) questioning his place in the universe. Along the ranks of the Iron Giant and Peace from “Wizards,” his position as a weapon is seen as an afterthought as he seeks for redemption. I felt the character and the actor were one seeing how much subtly they show in his wish to change. This is not a basic cliche but a full developed character. Not once in the saga have we questioned the aspect of a mindless solider’s ability to have a personality and questioning morality. Here, we do and it does feel philosophical in a sense. Not in a “beating over the head message” but more of a character motive which is very fitting here. To me, this was “THX-1138” but performed better.

Of course, things get into a tangle with a desert scavenger (Daisy Ridley) who is also searching for purpose as well. Again, hard to talk about the character without giving too much but here are the basics. This is a cool heron. When she is captured, she doesn’t sit and wait for someone to rescue her. This is the kind of character that will seek a way to escape no matter what it takes. Of course, this does contradict it a bit seeing she thinks certain parents who abandoned her as a kid will return. On the plus, its nice to see a female hero that can fight, use logic and know how to run a “bucket of bolts.”

star-wars-force-awakens-han-solo-chewbacca“Force Awakens” I’m sure will be the talk of the town with old fans seeing some familiar faces appear. Confirming just by the trailer, yes we get Han Solo and his sidekick Chewbacca. I admit, seeing Harrison Ford still doing stunts at the age of 73 was incredible. It shows he still knows hows to be an action man even long after the originals. Some get cameos, some get a small importance to the story while others appear just to please the fans. Its nice to see familiar faces and the original actors but part of me wishes they did a lot more. Or didn’t use some for a sequel bait. Oh, well get to that later….in non-spoiler fashion.

However, not all of the new adventures works. At least for me. The story-line I felt took one too many familiar beats from the original trilogy. And I understand what its trying to do. Certain elements are trying to please the mass of die hard nostalgia fans. Again, I can’t talk about them without spoiling it. But let’s say unlike Terminator Genysis, they at least take old stuff and try to do new things instead of tossing them at the screen and seeing if it sticks. A good example is the aspect of the villain. Yeah, they try to do this thing with Vader by giving him a mask and family issues. Its no Vader but there is this nice menace that reminds us of the power that was once there.

force-socialAnd speaking of which, the new baddies were get are not that interesting. Instead of the Empire, we get the First Order. Yeah, an obvious take and attack on Nazism even right down to the flags and its general making dictations of conquest as an army of stormtroopers observe. Yeah, you can argue that was something with the original trilogy but here, it feels a tad more obvious even right down to the banner design. Even the new set of villains are sort of forgettable. With more focus on our heroes, the basic gist we get from these new evildoers is they are evil and want to take over the galaxy.

Even Kylo Ren is pitted as the next Vader and to be honest, he does has some intimidation. You can feel this fear and anger flow from him but only when he had the mask on. Though, there are times when he did act like he was having a childish fit when he thrashed his light-saber at computer screens after hearing bad news. And without giving too much away, when his true face is revealed, most of that menace dimmed. It appeared more like a brooding version of the secret love child between Benedict Cumberbatch and Josh Groban. And the ever so hyped Captain Phasma felt very useless to me. Aside from one moment near the end, this metallic baddie never did anything that stood out to me. The only one who stood out was Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux, a tough as nails general whose so determined to conquer even to the point you see his eyes bug out of his head when he’s screaming speeches.

Now, I understand this is a new entry in a trilogy Disney is crafting but when making a new film, it would be nice to at least tie up some loose ends. Again, without spoiling too much, there are open questions left here and there which I feel give too much sequel bait. Call it a nitpick, but seeing we are being introduced to these characters for the first time, I feel it would have been nice to at least give a sense of closure without being too broad. I understand there are character arcs that need to be explored but even in the first Star Wars (“A New Hope”), it ended on a note that felt satisfying as opposed to saying “there will be another” in a blunt manner. A better example are the new Planet of the Apes movies which do open the door for a sequel but not in a demanding way. It tells us the story is concluded and there is room for another as opposed to making obvious set ups. When something like that happens when it leaves too many questions floating around, it obviously says “there will be a sequel to answer those” and it really annoys me. Again, these are new characters and at least we should feel a sense of closure as opposed to a “To Be Continued” feeling by the end. Its a double edge sword but that’s how I felt.

Aside from the flaws, I can safely say this is a Star Wars movie. I can look at a certain scene from the movie and say on the fly, this is what a Star Wars movie looks like and acts like. The action scenes are enjoyable, the new monsters and aliens are unique to look at, the weapons are certainly Star Wars and the new worlds we see are a nice change of pace. I feel like its something “Star Trek: Generations” tried to do by merging the universe of the old with the new, but I feel its done a tad better here. Maybe if the villains where more threatening and the story took some new risks, it could have been this great sequel along the lines of “Empire Strikes Back.” But I feel its enjoyment is on the level of the first movie and “Return of the Jedi.” And thankfully its nowhere near the area of the prequels, but part of me feels there could have been more improvement in spots. On the upside, it was nice to see a new Star Wars movie on the big screen and makes it an easy recommendation. Just don’t go in with too much hype is what I say.

“Ridiculous 6” desert of unfunny

screenshot_2015-10-28_15.28.14Let me start by saying 2015 has been a really poor year for comedies. At least from the ones I’ve seen that is how I feel. I know every year there will be that one that is trying too hard to be gross or stupid just for a laugh. But from the ones I have seen, there has yet to be one that makes me think back to classics like Animal House or One Crazy Summer. Ones that don’t need to dig deep into the barrel just to force a chuckle. Bottom line, comedy needs a jump start or at least reminded what made movies like Shaun of the Dead great or plays like Noises Off enjoyable to watch. Though no doubt in saying “The Ridiculous 6” is a pure sign that humor doesn’t have to be so overly disgusting or overly sexist just to squeeze a laugh out of your throat. In fact, the only benefit I can think of after watching this is how Netflix’s online streaming is the only service screening it. And much like with Netflix’s streaming service, you can simply skip to another movie with ease. I hear “Ernest Saves Christmas” is on there. A FAR funnier movie than the hunk of dead air that came from my lips during this travesty.

The story goes is that Adam Sandler had a raunchy comedy satirizing westerns but studios passed for variety of reasons. After his company Happy Madison Productions agreed to a four picture deal, “Ridiculous 6” was the first to be made…with a budget of $60 million. Not to linger on production values too much but when you take into consideration the poor year Sandler had and the unfunny nature of the feature, its a no brainier why this never got picked up by a major studio. Part of me is curious to see what would have happened if this was in theaters. I’d be curious to see if anyone would laugh. But the more I think about it, the fact this movie is on Netflix does save $8.50 of an admission price.

The story deals with Sanlder playing a man raised by Native Americans named Tommy Stockburn. Before he is about to be wed, his father (surprisingly played by Nick Nolte) gets captured by a gang of bandits under ransom or something like that. As Tommy goes after him, he coincidentally runs into five people who reveal to be his step-brothers seeing his dad made whoopie with their mothers. The plan now is to steal from bad guys and raise enough dough to save him. And yeah, that’s about as basic as it gets.

Even if the plot sounds really bizarre and stupid, there is a lot of stuff they toss in to make it more dumb and stupid. Like the fact that Sandler’s character has super powers, one of the brothers (Taylor Lautner) is an annoying village idiot, the cameos ranging from bizarrely executed to not really interesting and the comedy is either way too low brow or just out of nowhere ideas. Sweet jesus, there’s a scene when this character played by Steve Zahn has to remove his right eye in order to join this gang. The joke is that his left eye is lazy and can only see good with his right. But after being insisted, he removes it with spoon and we see it done in shadow. I’ll give them credit that you don’t see any blood but the graphic details are there. I remember watching that and almost close to the point of vomiting on my desktop screen. And I’m not alone. I heard from a few friends of mine and some viewers that particular moments keeps them from getting father into the movie.

Well for those who couldn’t make it past that, let me address that you are not missing much. In fact, dare I say the whole movie isn’t worth watching. Because every joke they toss at you will either bomb or just have this bizarre context which doesn’t make any sense. No build up. No set ups. Just toss a random gag and see if it flies. Which to me is what I feel most comedies today seem to be doing. I can imagine the writing process being like “Oh hey, let’s put in a donkey that shoots diarrhea out like a machine gun. Because poop is funny. Oh, lets have a scene where Adam Sandler can morph into a tumbleweed because his character’s superpowers have no limit. Hey, why not have a scene when Taylor Lautner’s character is hanged but his strong neck prevents his death causing the audience to freak out in disgust.” Yeah, its just a string of random set pieces that really have no connection other than being part of the “oh, wouldn’t it be funny if we had this” category.

As far as the rest of the movie goes, its your standard Sandler trope fest. You have the Rob Schneider offensive stereotype character, the underdog wins cliche, the “consequences are icky” trope is kind of there, the standard filler of having a random plot point that tries to go somewhere but then abandons it, a bad song sequence and the list goes on. I feel like this movie is more of a series of events than an actual narrative. To describe it, I would have to talk about each scene and each gag that falls flatter than a dead horse being whipped.

Surprisingly, there are three times when I actually did laugh or felt amused in a sense. First was a small gag during a raid. Second was a scene when a poker game happens with General Custer as David Spade and Mark Twain in an unrecognizable Vanilla Ice. Not sense “Million Ways to Die in the West” has there been a weirder casting. But even stranger is how Vanilla Ice is able to be really funny even if the material he is given is not that good. And already I propose a crossover with these two and Gilbert Gottfried as President Lincoln. It would make for a funnier film. And the final time was a reveal with the one-eyed gang which was predictable but the delivery made it funny. But are then enough to make the movie worth seeing? No.

The only benefit of “The Ridiculous 6” is that, again, it never got released to theaters. And pray it stays that way. I almost feel like with this and “Million Ways to Die in the West” they tried to be the next “Blazing Saddles”. But what made “Blazing Saddles” funny was that it was making fun of the genre and how absurd the west was. They weren’t banking on one-note jokes and one-note concepts while filling that time with pointless jokes and gags only existing to serve the dumbfounded. Truly this is a soulless effort where the sets complement the tone as saloons feel like they were stolen from the trash bin of Gunsmoke and Bonanza. Dare I say “Back to the Future Part III” was a better Western comedy than this trash. And to those who disliked “BTTF Part III,” I triple dog dare you to see if you can last till the end credits with this movie. Because honestly deep down, I know you can’t. And for those who at least tried to sit through this and bailed out, you get a medal in books. Or at least some form of recognition for trying. Because this one is not worth any part of your time.

“Heart of Sea” ambiguously medicore

Just another whale of a tale...

Just another whale of a tale…

Director Ron Howard has always been an interesting case to me. When he does historical drama and fictional drama, that appears to be his forte. From Apollo 13 to Backdraft, he is able to articulate the human emotion in such dangerous situations. The energy and dilemma comes from these problems like being trapped in space to rescuing innocent lives in a burning building. He knows how to capture the exhilarating rush while getting across the danger as well. However, his latest outing “In the Heart of Sea” didn’t leave me with excitement or any life changing splendor. In fact, I honestly don’t know what to make of it. I do admire the craft and effort but at the same time one must question why and what was necessary to tale this whale of a tale in the first place.

Based on Nathaniel Philbrick’s non-fiction book, Chris Hemsworth portrays Owen Chase, a First Mate of the historical Essex that was said to have been taken off course and badly damaged by a sperm whale on their whaling hunt. In a nuthshell, it sounds like a simple premise but yet there is an unnecessary need to extend the truth in order to make it feel grand to scale. For example, in real life, Owen was said his account of the incident was published to the public and which would later inspire Herman Melville to write his American whaling epic. On the other hand, the movie has a different accord as the story is told by one of the cabin boys, now an elderly Brendan Gleeson, who claims the story of what happened to the Essex crew has been under wraps for so long that he is the last remaining survivor to pass the tale. In fact, this exact tale is being told to a young Herman Melville who is doing research for his whale epic Moby Dick. The framing device for this feels off and only works when grisly events are needed to be described without the aspect of showing a grim event (more on that later on.) Then again, a movie like this will tend to stretch the truth so I shouldn’t be surprised for things like this.

Odd narrative aside, one can see a lot of effort into this sea-fearing epic right from the design of the Essex itself to trying to nail as much detail as possible on the disastrous whaling expedition. As it turns out their Captain (Benjamin Walker) steers the crew in a different direction as they make their way through typhoons and days of bare catch. Much like the days of no whales in sight, there is too much slow build up to the centerpiece event as we have to endure the crew mates who feel as developed as a 1970s disaster movie. Despite accuracy of who is portraying who, it feels little effort is placed on defining character much like in James Cameron’s Titanic as everyone is filled to the brim with tropes and cliches. The Captain comes off as the ignorant leader who gets his crew in trouble waters (no pun intended) while Hemsworth’s character tries to be the reasonable guy who knows better and yet no one listens to him. Again, despite the accuracy in spots, the delivery and development makes it feel more stock than actual character.

When the big whale hunt comes in, we do see a lot of brutality that is detestably tame for a PG-13. Quick warning to animal lovers, some may feel uncomfortable by the misting spray of blood the harpooned whale blows out followed by hollowing the creature out for oil and blubber. In revenge (I can only speculate,) its not till midway the eventful moment happens when a giant sperm whale attacks the ship as our crew is stranded out in the ocean as they try to make their way home. Sadly, the big scene is nearly engaging and far energetic than anything else that happens throughout the last half. The Essex crew is depicted as floating around on three boats, desperate for the search for land and even at one point enact cannibalism in order to survive.

In regards to that last point, the idea and implication is there but we don’t see much action. Those who are sensitive must be noted that while this theme is present in the last act, we don’t see anyone get munched on outside of the elderly cabin boy discuss what happened and the sight of some bones laying around one ship might upset. While the whole survival aspect carries a very unpleasant feel to it, the “Heart” of the movie lacks avoiding any power or passion to its own topic.

In Ron’s previous moves like Apollo 13, we get a sense of raw emotion and care for our characters because they are aware of the risks and do what they can to survive. Here, this is very little of it and sadly when your actors can’t convey the dread and fear of things to come, the viewers won’t feel or fear it. Even Chris Helmsworth can’t convey a single thread of emotion as in one scene he argues against the Captain’s choices and the argument is very underacted like how two Shakespearean actors would read straight from a script. And for a movie to have such promise and not deliver the pain, suffering and emotional tone of its journey, the end result makes for a rather boring fishing trip.

“Krampus” is a Christmas classic

The latest holiday classic from director Michael Dougherty

The latest holiday classic from director Michael Dougherty

The opening of “Krampus” is one of the best moments as a group of customers crowd a store like a Black Friday run, grabbing the next best item and showing the misery of it. It appears this is how Christmas is seen to many today. A bleak and cynical cash grab while family dinner doesn’t fair better either. Its like “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” gone wild and wrong. Bickering dysfunctional families, more focus on the price tag of the next HDTV and ignorance to the youth. Truly many have forgotten the true spirit of the Christmas season as Michael Dougherty directs (and wrote the screenplay for) a holiday fable about how powerful tradition remains to the season.

Emjay Anthony is the protagonist Max who is tired of how disgruntled and bitter his family has gotten from being bullied about still believing in Santa to fist fights with his cousins. On the day his other family members arrive for a three day stay, young Max gets so stingy to the point he gives up all hope in the Christmas spirit. This feeling leads to a massive blizzard to hit the neighborhood  and summon a demonic monster known as the Krampus said to be the shadow of Santa.

Instead of lumps of coal, in traditional Alpine folklore, the Krampus would actually beat the naughty with chains and whips. Here, Dougherty’s script goes for the tradition keeping the dark spirit in play while allowing free reign with legend seeing how little know Western audiences connect to something so basic. Instead, Krampus is depicted as a devil-like entity that has a horde of beasts at his side that are the equivalency to Santa’s elves. As the days tick by, Max’s family is menaced by evil toys, mischievous gingerbread men and beastly elves that are more creepy than the goblins in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. The special effects are easy to please from practical to few CGI creations. And for the $15 million budget this was given, every penny was well spent and a great extent of effort was clearly put into motion.

Max and his family as they "literally" fight to survive the holiday season

Max and his family as they “literally” fight to survive the holiday season

For those who think this is a slap in the face to those who enjoy the Christmas spirit, you might be surprised to see the loving message is still intact. As a reminder, movies like It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol never shy away from the dark side. Many reviewers and moviegoers compared this one to Joe Dante’s Gremlins and there is no reason to see why. Both have a B-movie tone that keep the comedy while still being twisted and mean. But after thinking about it, I feel this movie is more of a mix between Poltergeist and the classic Charles Dickens tale.

While the horror elements are certainly front and center, they are connected to the idea of reminding us to observe tradition and how important it is for the Christmas season. When the family is attacked, they don’t split up and run out the door. They at least band together and try to work things out like a family normally would. What keeps these characters from being a little realistic are the dysfunctional personalities which can be hit and miss.

Personally, I found myself connected to these disgruntled people seeing how crazy families can be with envy and not to mention certain relatives that have this grudge against you. Adam Scott does a good job as the father who wants just wants to survive the season as David Koechner really knows when to be humorous and batty as the uncle. Toni Colette and Allison Tolman know when to be bitter and charming as the mother trying not to loose it and the aunt who just wants things perfect even if life is crummy. But my favorite has to be Conchata Ferrell’s performance of Aunt Dorothy who can be borderline annoying but her cynical attitude keeps her one-liners as well as her tipsy personality really memorable.

Krista Stadler also gives a good performance as the grandmother who knows what’s going on and has a great backstory that adds a lot of depth to her character. Without giving too much away, there’s one scene when she explains this encounter with the Krampus (all done in animation) that is really chilling and tragic. The emphasis on the dialogue when she retells this legend is both creepy and tear jerking feeling like she has kept this sad memory all her life and knows this Christmas may not end so well.

Move over Santa, we got a new holiday icon...

Move over Santa, we got a new holiday icon…

I have to be honest. When I went to see Krampus in theaters, I saw this with a young crowd; Think high school or early college. I was worried someone would talk through or have a cellphone on. But to my surprise, I couldn’t believe how engaged everyone was. They laughed at the funny spots and remained quiet when the scares started to creep in. Let me tell you the minute Krampus appeared, it was so quiet in the seats that you could only hear a pin drop. While the movie itself is not bloody, the scenes when the family facing Krampus’ minions can be frightening and a tad intense. Even for a PG-13, I was surprised to see how effective the frights were delivered without someone’s arm getting torn off or showing blood and guts. According to interviews, director Michael Dougherty of cult fave Trick R Treat crafted this as a PG-13 rated movie for family audiences and I have to be honest, this one might sit better with 10 or 11 year-olds. Now, it doesn’t get too grisly or bloody but chances with younger viewers at least 5 or 8, this might too much for them.

Now as much as I gush over how much I enjoy this, there are a few negatives I do have. The pace of Krampus can be a bit slow seeing the introduction of Max’s family can drag for a bit and I know its meant to show how bonkers their holiday has gotten. But there are some spots when it could have been trimmed just a hair for pace. Also, without giving too much away, the monster Krampus really doesn’t appear until the last third of the movie. So there is a good bulk of wait until he comes stomping into the house. On the other hand, this is part of the point seeing the narrative is set to a ticking clock for his arrival on Christmas Eve much like how Santa but again the polar opposite. And there are times when the fight scenes with the monsters can be hard to watch with multiple cuts to close-ups and shot in the dark which ruins a little bit of the energy.

Better be good...

Better be good…

But on the whole, I’m actually happy I saw this one. I admit, I was extremely skeptical when I saw the trailer for the first time and wrote it off as dumb. But after reading interviews on the making of the film and seeing more clips, I started to have this odd interest. In fact, yeah. If we can live in a world with many Christmas Carols that can be frightening, why not have something different for a change that maintains the Christmas spirit in its own way. I won’t lie. As the movie progressed, a smile grew on my face. And that smile kept getting bigger and bigger as things got darker and edgier. By the time it was over, I felt like I had this permanent Grinch-like grin of satisfaction. I was waiting for at least another movie that is manic and enjoyable like Gremlins. Satisfactory to say, Krampus comes really close but I feel like this is one Christmas tale I want to revisit and pass down for generations to come. So why are you reading this? Run to your local cinema and see for yourself. For this is one stocking stuffer surprise I’m pleased to say is sure to please.