Tag Archives: David Harbour

Cruel Yule

Violent Night

by George Wolf

Maybe director Tommy Wirkola was kicking back with writers Pat Casey and John Miller one night, arguing about whether Die Hard was a Christmas movie. A few cold pops later, they’d swapped out John McClane for Santa Claus, added Die Hard 2 and Home Alone to the guest list, and Violent Night was born.

David Harbour is a hoot as a hard drinking Claus who’s not very jolly anymore. Kids are all greedy “little shits” these days, nobody believes, and maybe it’s time to hang up the sleigh.

But when he’s dropping off toys for bona fide nice list member Trudy Lightstone (Leah Brady, a cutie) on Christmas Eve, Santa becomes the monkey in the wrench.

Trudy’s grandmother Gertrude (Beverly D’Angelo, nice to see you) is obscenely wealthy, so the evil “Scrooge” (John Leguizamo) and his gang have invaded the festivities at the Lightstone compound. They want the millions hiding in the family vault, but they hadn’t planned on a red-suited party crasher and a little kid’s booby traps.

Santa’s not barefoot, but Wirkola (the Dead Snow films) and the Casey/Miller team (The Sonic the Hedgehog films) are not shy about re-creating sequences straight from the Die Hards and Home Alone. They do at least name check both films, and once the season’s beatings begin the film takes on a self-aware, R-rated vibe that’s plenty of ornery fun.

But what Trudy wants most this year is for her Mom (Alexis Louder, so good in Copshop) and Dad (Alex Hassell, The Tragedy of Macbeth) to get back together, and Violent Night can’t help undercutting its subversive streak with a nice, safe glass of milk and cookies.

The film backs away just when it could have been decking the halls with some raunchy hilarity, and that’s disappointing. This Santa likes his snacks with some “pre-War” brandy, and his hammers of the sledge variety. And when Violent Night is reaching into that brand new blood-soaked bag, it’s boughs of whiplash smiles.

Assassins Assemble

Black Widow

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Avenger Natasha Romanoff had to wait a while to get the green light on her own standalone origin story, and then even longer for the big screens to carry it. Now Black Widow is finally here, and Natasha’s not even the most interesting character in her own show.

And the film is better for it.

Director Cate Shortland and writer Eric Pearson surround Natasha with uniquely compelling personalities that become important parts of a whole, while surrounding star Scarlett Johansson with a supporting ensemble skilled enough to make this one of the MCU’s most character-driven successes.

Oh, there’s action, too, but we start with a prologue set in 1995 Ohio, when Natasha’s family is trying to flee the country at a moment’s notice. Father Alexei (David Harbour), and mother Melina (Rachel Weiss) were prepared for this day, so they scoop up young Natasha (Ever Anderson) and sister Yelena (Violet McGraw) and put the escape plan into action.

An overlong, Watchmen-style montage mixing music and news headlines brings us up to 2006, when the family is long estranged. Natasha is on the run since the Avengers “divorce” (between Civil War and Infinity War), Yelena (Florence Pugh) is taking names in Norway, Alexei is in prison and Melina’s loyalties seem tied to some talented pigs. Meanwhile the villainous Dreykov (Ray Winstone – nice! His accent – not so much) has plans to build an army of mind-controlled “Black Widow” assassins.

That means females only, but while the reveal lands as a clear metaphor for sex trafficking, Shortland (Berlin Syndrome, the underseen gem Lore) and Pearson (Godzilla vs. Kong, Thor: Ragnarok) never belabor any well-taken points. Even better, they fill the entire adventure with enough organic, self-aware humor about posing, too tight supersuits and the need for pockets that very few of the 133 minutes seem laborious at all.

The core foursome is uniformly terrific, as you would expect from actors of this caliber. Performances blossom and surprise, their chemistry buoying the familial longing required of every superhero backstory while anchoring action in characters you can care about.

Pugh—sympathetic, comedic and badass—is the standout, but Johansson shines, especially in a climactic bout with Winstone that lands satisfying jabs about weak men.

Shortland never forgets the point of a superhero film, though. The breathless action in Black Widow impresses as much as it entertains, whether hand-to-hand or aerial.

And it is a Marvel film, so be sure to stick around post-credits for an intriguing stinger and a welcome addition to the universe.

Boy, Oh Boy

Hellboy

by Hope Madden

It has been 15 years since Guillermo del Toro and Ron Perlman first brought Mike Mignola’s cat loving, iron fisted, soft hearted son of Satan to the big screen. You’ve got to feel for any filmmaker tasked with following in del Toro’s steps, especially when the film in question is a monster movie brimming with innocence and wonder. That is really his wheelhouse.

But Neil Marshall is no slouch. His first film out the gate back in 2002, Dog Soldiers, offered a wickedly funny war movie with werewolves. This gem he followed in 2005 with what may be contemporary horror’s scariest monster movie, The Descent.

Since then? Nothing to write home about. But that means he’s due for a comeback, eh? And Hellboy’s ready for a reboot. Right?

No to both.

The first difference you’ll note, maybe 15 words into the film with the first of many f-bombs, is that Neil Marshall’s Hellboy is rated R.

It’s also a horror movie, make no mistake. Hellboy is lousy with limb severing, blood gushing, intestine spilling action.

Also, it’s just lousy.

Hellboy (Stranger Things’s David Harbour, who does an admirable job) struggles against a prophesy and a lifetime in the shadows to decide his destiny for himself. Milla Jovovich is a witch. There is a boar monster, a scrappy teen medium, a were-cheetah and some seriously sketchy CGI.

Yikes, this movie looks bad.

There are those who will complain about Marshall’s gleeful gorefest, but not me. Demons ripping the flesh from the faces of innocents? Others may be hiding their eyes from the carnage, but what they’re mercifully missing is digital animation on par with Disney’s The Haunted Mansion (the 2003 film or the amusement park ride, take your pick).

Aside from two creepy images—one of Jovovich’s Blood Queen in flowing red robes beneath a shadowy, skeletal tree; the second a quick sideways glance into Baba Yaga’s pantry—Marshall’s vision is weak.

His storytelling is not much stronger. Working from a script by Andrew Cosby, the film opens with exposition, repeats that exact exposition midway through Act 2, and halts at least three additional times for one character to stand still and articulate a big block of story for us.

Often that character is dead and attached to the mouth of a young girl via a long, gurgly, worm-like body, which probably the most laughable element of the film.

Probably.