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: Dear White People

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Dear White People
Directed by: Justin Simien
Written by: Justin Simien
Starring: Tyler James Williams, Tessa Thompson, Teyonah Parris and Brandon P. Bell

In one of the many scenes of humiliation in Justin Simien’s Dear White People, the newly-elected head of the unofficial black student dorm tips over the white university president’s son’s plate in a dining hall and demands that he get out.  She says it’s because he doesn’t live there, and he isn’t used to not getting his way.  There’s obviously very intense racial tensions in the scene, but the ways in which the different groups within the school’s black community react to it make it, and the movie, more complex.

That dorm head, Sam (Tessa Thompson), is also the host of a campus radio show that gives the movie its title.   She uses “Dear White People” to speak a series of agitated open letters to the white students at the fictional Ivy League school Winchester University and the black students currently in power.  Although Simien’s movie climaxes at a racist “hip hop” themed party where a bunch of white students dress in blackface, before that it’s more interested in the divides within the black community on Winchester’s campus.

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