Tag Archives: John Leguizamo

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.

Every Little Thing She Does


by Hope Madden

No one wants to believe themselves ordinary. Not even calm, supportive Mirabel Madrigal (Stephanie Beatriz). But ordinariness happens to be her defining quality because she is the first Madrigal in three generations who has no magical gifts.

Her mother can heal with food. Her sister has super strength. Her cousin can shape shift. But when the day came for Mirabel to receive her magical gift, nothing happened. When the magic of the Madrigal family — magic that has kept the entire town of Encanto in peaceful enchantment for decades — starts to crack, is it all because of Mirabel?

One of many reasons that Disney’s 60th feature Encanto charms is that this unsure adolescent does not find out she’s secretly a princess. She has no makeover. It isn’t romance that helps her see her own specialness. Thank God.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s music is another reason. Infectious, upbeat and surprisingly insightful, the songs in Encanto speak to individual insecurities in a way that hardly suggests the magical nature of the film. Lyrics illustrate sincere worries about letting people down, living up to expectations and other universal and yet intimate worries.

If you worry the film sounds a bit drab and reasonable, fear not because the vibrant color, lush landscapes, intricate interiors and clever, high-energy animation keep the magic popping. Set in Colombia, Encanto reflects the magical realism favored in the literature of the land and that, too, makes for a unique cartoon experience.

John Leguizamo and Maria Cecilia Botero join Beatriz in a voice cast that brims with pathos, love and energy, just like the family they depict. Much about the complex interactions within the family feels like honest if uncharted territory for a Disney outing — flawed heroes, loving villains, and the notion that selfishness and selflessness as equally problematic.

The flip side of that coin is that the world of Encanto doesn’t feel very big and the stakes don’t feel very high. If that were the only drawback to co-directors Jared Bush, Byron Howard and Charise Castro Smith’s approach it would hardly be worth mentioning. Unfortunately, they undermine the complexity they find in familial love with a too-tidy ending that robs Encanto and its inhabitants of some hard-won lessons.

Despite All My Rage

Dark Blood

by Brandon Thomas

Famous actors often don’t get to choose how the public views them and their careers. A lucky few can bounce between genres – keeping audiences on their toes. More often than not, actors become associated with one kind of film and rarely escape that shadow. 

In director Harold Trompetero’s new crime drama Dark Blood, John Leguizamo gets to shake free of his comedic and action past, and deliver one of the best performances of his storied career. 

After killing the man he believes molested and killed his son, Misael (Leguizamo of To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar and John Wick) has just arrived to prison. The blood is still fresh on his hands and clothes when the guards assault him for the first time and throw him into solitary confinement. Misael begins to acclimate to the dangerous life behind bars. Continued assaults from the guards become an almost daily routine, and even other inmates put Misael in their crosshairs.

Prison movies are almost uniformly bleak. These films offer glimpses into humanity at its absolute worst. Dark Blood is no different in its depiction of how morality breaks down behind bars. There’s a code inmates and guards live by, but it’s all wrapped up in bloodshed and despair. Even at a scant 82 minutes, the film paints a vivid picture of the world within these dangerous walls. 

Dark Blood takes the subject matter and its characters seriously, but there’s no desire here to be something as deep as Midnight Express. There’s a griminess to the violence that wouldn’t feel out of place in grindhouse movies of the 1970s. 

Leguizamo has made a good career playing 2nd or 3rd banana in many of his projects. These were not especially complex films with deep characters, but Leguizamo was good in them. In Dark Blood, Leguizamo gives a near career-best performance. Leguizamo wisely leans into his inherent likeability to help craft Misael as a mild-mannered but passionate man. There’s a simmering rage to Misael that bubbles right below the surface for the entire film.

Dark Blood isn’t the next Shawshank Redemption, but what it is is an expertly made film that walks the fine line between drama and exploitation. 

Late Shift

The Night Clerk

by Hope Madden

Any film centering on a character on the Autism spectrum is risking a lot. It’s far too easy to simplify this character to a handful of tics that lend themselves to a narrative device: Mercury Rising, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Forest Gump. (That’s right. I said it.)

But if it’s done well, if the character is a character and not a narrative device, the film can benefit immeasurably.

The Night Clerk falls somewhere in between these two options.

Writer/director Michael Cristofer leans on a committed cast, including the always wonderful Tye Sheridan in the lead, to pull you into a mystery thriller that may be too simple for its own good.

Sheridan is Bart. He works nights at a hotel near his home and in his off hours he practices. He rehearses human interaction, small talk. He and his mother (Helen Hunt, a touching mixture of brittle and tender) live day to day in what has clearly become well-worn patterns. Most nights at work are probably uneventful, but on this particular night, Bart discovers a murder.

The detective on the case (John Leguizamo) suspects Bart, but Bart is distracted by a kind hearted and lovely new guest (a convincing Ana de Armas).

Without Sheridan’s committed performance, the film would fall apart. At no point does Sheridan, Cristofer or this film condescend to Bart. The audience isn’t one step ahead of the character; we are piecing through the mystery along with him. We aren’t asked by the film to pity Bart but to be frustrated along with him, and Sheridan is up to the task of keeping this character from tipping into martyrdom.

The problem with this film is not the characterization of a young man with Asperger syndrome. The issue is the writing.

Cristofer may nail the characters—and for the most part, with the help of talented performers, he does. But the lapses in logic when it comes to the policework, not to mention the basic simplicity of the plot itself, keeps the film from really engaging or staying with you.

The plot feels almost too uncomplicated to be a TV drama let alone a feature film. Tensions over the outcome never rise above a flutter, and regardless of how strong the performances—de Armas, Hunt and Sheridan, in particular—this is a thriller that rarely manages to generate any real tension.

As a character study it’s intriguing, sometimes comical and certainly respectful. It’s a showcase for solid acting, but not much else.