Helping you separate naughty from nice with this weekend’s movie options, The Screening Room looks at Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Pitch Perfect 3, Downsizing, Darkest Hour, The Greatest Showman as well as your new options in home entertainment. Join us!
Hometown boy Michael Dougherty, whose 2007 directorial debut Trick ‘r Treat is a seasonal gem, returns to the land of holidays and horror with his second effort behind the camera, Krampus.
This Christmas tale – not unlike Joe Dante’s ’84 smash Gremlins – hopes to spin a weird and horrifying yet not entirely family unfriendly yarn suitable for seasonal viewing. Young Max (Emjay Anthony) secretly still believes in Santa, but Christmas just isn’t what it used to be. Sure, his German grandmother Omi shares his sentiment, but not the rest of the family – stressed out upper crust parents (Toni Collette and Adam Scott), boorish relatives (led by the ideal oaf, David Koechner), and a cranky great aunt, played by Conchata Ferrell.
When family dysfunction pushes him too far, Max tears up his letter to Santa, unwittingly inviting in his stead, the evil shadow-Santa, Krampus.
The film looks good, the performances are solid, but Dougherty has trouble finding and keeping a tone. Though Koechner does deliver a handful of decent lines, the film, on the whole, is not funny, nor is it particularly scary.
Perhaps hamstrung by a PG-13 rating (unlike the similarly themed 2010 Dutch film Saint), Krampus feels too restrained for horror lovers, too horrific for families.
The ancient demon and his anti-merry makers get too little screen time, and though a couple of them get a fantastic design, Krampus himself is never as visually articulated as he should be.
Dougherty has put together a very talented cast and crafted some interesting characters for them, the writing (duties he shared with Todd Casey and Zach Shields) feels lazy. Often the film pauses for what would be a one-liner zinger, and instead we get the talented Conchata Ferrell delivering a line no more interesting than, “I got this.”
Heavy with sentiment but light on redemption or terror, Krampus is one of those Christmas treats that doesn’t feel quite worth the caloric intake.
It was fun spending the apocalypse with Seth Rogen and his friends, so why not Christmas?
The Night Before gives you that chance. Isaac (Rogen) and BFF Chris (Anthony Mackie) have spent Christmas Eve with Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) every year since his parents died. They have the same routine, hit the same spots, seek the same elusive party. But the tradition’s getting a little pathetic as the trio heads into their mid-thirties, so this is their last holiday hurrah.
It’s a lame set-up about embracing adulthood without abandoning your true friends, but there’s magical Christmas weed and a slew of hilarious cameos, so maybe things will work out OK?
JGL is reliably likeable, Rogen is – well, you know what you get with him. Mackie is no comic genius and his performance feels a bit too broad. But the secret here is in the supporting players.
Jillian Bell is characteristically hilarious, as is Broad City’s Ilana Glazer, but the way Michael Shannon walks away with scenes is tantamount to larceny. He doesn’t do a lot of comedy (unless you count that sorority girl’s letter online), but his deadpan performance is easily the highlight of the film.
It’s hard to tell whether the film is too silly or not silly enough. It has its laughs, raunchy though they are, but the adventure feels simultaneously slapped together and formulaic.
Director Jonathan Levine (50/50) and his team of writers (including Evan Goldberg, natch) dip a toe in schmaltz rather than investing at all in actual character development, preferring to string together episodes of goofball fun.
The zany misadventures aren’t enough to carry the film, and lacking depth of character creates a “holiday spirit” climax that is tough to care about.
What makes the Hunger Games franchise so much stronger than the rest of the adolescent lit series out there? Perhaps more than anything – more than a compelling hero’s quest, more than the peril and drama, more than director Francis Lawrence’s eye for action and sense of pacing – it’s that each new film expands the profound talent in this pool of actors.
The great Julianne Moore joins ranks that include 2-time Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson, consummate bad guy Donald Sutherland, genius character actors Jeffrey Wright, Jena Malone, Elizabeth Banks and Stanley Tucci, and the greatest actor of his generation, Philip Seymour Hoffman. And who can forget the lead – a performer with an Oscar and two additional nominations under her belt at the ripe old age of 24? Let’s be honest, these humans could elevate any script that fell into their collective grasp. They could make a decent film out of Fifty Shades of Grey, for God’s sake.
Lucky for us, instead they collaborate on the third of four episodes in the program, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1.
Reluctant hero Katniss, having destroyed the games and been rescued by rebel forces, agrees to be the face of the rebellion in return for the rescue of her beloved friend Peeta (Josh Hutcherson).
Gone is the Battle Royale nightmare and excitement of the games themselves, replaced with the broiling drama of a budding revolution. Gone, too, are the writers that mined Suzanne Collins’s novel Catching Fire for its underlying political maneuverings. They are replaced by Collins herself, who adapts her novel, as well as Peter Craig (The Town) and Danny Strong (The Butler). Their treatment lacks much of the excitement of earlier installments, spending more time with the brooding, dramatic Katniss than with the arrow-wielding badass.
They don’t write down to their audience, though, touching upon the helplessness and compromise of political manipulations, finding similarities between the behavior of the rebellion and that of the dread Capitol.
Credit Lawrence (the director) for keeping a quick pace though saddled with more exposition and fewer action sequences, more heavy drama and less bloodshed. But honestly, the magic of the film is in Stanley Tucci’s disingenuous TV interviews, in Moore’s subtle evolution, in Hoffman’s every bemused chuckle, and in Jennifer Lawrence’s ability to transform into a skulking, unlikeable, single minded teen who happens to carry a revolution on her shoulders.