Short takes: Krampus, Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 & Creed

Krampus

Krampus — Krampus is a delightful, deranged revision to the standard dysfunctional family Christmas film.  It begins as one, with a slew of perfectly cast character archetypes — Toni Collette as a controlling mom, David Koechner as her gun-toting, obnoxious brother-in-law — trapped inside a home for the holidays.  The first third of the movie is sharply written, but fairly standard.  They bicker at dinner, pick at each other’s life choices and complain about the cooking.  Then Max (Emjay Anthony), a young boy teetering on the edge of believing in Santa, is ridiculed by his cousins into tearing up his letter for the North Pole.

From here, Krampus comes unhinged in the best possible way.  Max’s lack of faith disturbs St. Nick’s evil twin, a monstrous, horned demon who lands in the neighborhood with a band of demented elves and possessed Christmas toys.  Director Michael Dougherty orchestrates a gleeful spectacle of it all, finding a perfect tone that blends absurdity with terror.  From gingerbread men cackling as they fire a nail gun at someone to a giant clown jack-in-the-box that eats children, Krampus is filled with some wonderfully terrifying imagery.  The ending slightly cheapens the overall effect of everything before it, but I can see this movie becoming a welcome holiday alternative whenever someone suggests that we watch The Santa Clause for the 800th time.  Grade: B

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REVIEW: A Most Wanted Man

a-most-wanted-man

A Most Wanted Man
Directed by: Anton Corbijn
Written by: Andrew Bovell (screenplay), John le Carré (novel)
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Rachel McAdams and Robin Wright

Though this John le Carré adaptation switches between being a generic spy caper and a thrilling one, it was a great moviegoing experience for me simply because it was the last new movie I’ll ever see with Philip Seymour Hoffman in a leading role.  Yes, he’ll return as a supporting player in the final Hunger Games installment(s), and his debut in the last movie was filled with promise; but this is his last time at center stage, and I’m glad (but not surprised) that he knocks it out of the park.

A Most Wanted Man, directed by Anton Corbijn, is several steps behind the flashes of mastery in Tomas Alfredson’s take on le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and it even copies many of the visual elements used in that movie.  There are brightly colored rooms filled with drab spies speaking cryptically, and windowless, deglamorized operation hubs that felt lifted from the world of Alfredson’s film.  Though both movies benefit greatly from fantastic central performances, A Most Wanted Man’s winding, post-9/11 paranoia narrative doesn’t establish character nearly as well.

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