Review: ‘Tis the season to be merry, not scary, but don’t tell the makers of Krampus that. In fact, try to put aside your notions of what a “holiday movie” is and hunker down with this chilly chiller that aims to give your yuletide some monster movie madness. Part Gremlins, part National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Krampus may not be destined for a yearly Christmas watch but it’s still fine entertainment, a more than decent bit of counter-programming to more traditional festive choices.
Popular in Austrain folklore for hundreds of years, the Krampus is a massive goat-like creature that has a fondness for punishing bad boys and girls that are most certainly on Santa’s naughty list. I’m a little surprised that it’s taken this long for Krampus to headline his own Hollywood film but time has shown that Christmas is one holiday that movie audiences don’t like to see sullied with blood and gore (unless it’s in a “respectable” Scorsese or Coppola picture).
Released so soon after Black Friday, the opening credits of Krampus elicit some knowing chuckles playing over a slo-mo scene of chaos with customers at MegaMart pushing each other down and climbing over employees to get the best deals. Overzealous deal seekers are tasered and beaten as ‘It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas’ sweetly plays in the background. This opening tells you exactly what kind of movie you’re watching and helps set the tone for what’s to come.
Pre-teen Max (Emjay Anthony, The Jungle Book) just wants Christmas to be the way it was when he was younger, when his family spent more time together and everyone still believed in Santa Claus (ooops, spoiler alert?). Nowadays, his sister (Stefania LaVie Owen) has better things to do and his parents (Adam Scott, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty & Toni Collette, The Way Way Back) have lost some of their spark. With the arrival of his timid aunt (Allison Tollman) and obnoxious uncle (equally obnoxious David Koechner, Hit and Run), their brood of heinous hellions, and a boozy grump of an aunt (Conchata Ferrell, Erin Brockovich), things go from bad to worse when Max inadvertently conjures up our titular monster. Arriving with a bitter snowstorm and a host of creepy creatures to do most of his dirty work, Krampus stalks the snowbound family now holed up in their house without power or heat.
Director Michael Dougherty made a slick little Halloween horror film in 2007 called Trick ‘r Treat, an anthology film heavy on atmosphere that’s earned a cult following over the years. He works a similar magic with Krampus, turning a hectic Christmas family gathering into a fight for survival as one by one the relatives meet grim, yet not overly gruesome, ends.
Working within the confines of a PG-13 rating without pandering, the movie is low on grotesque gore, opting instead to focus its efforts on several nicely spooky sequences that mix impressive CGI seamlessly with practical effects. There’s even a clever nod to television holiday specials with an animated sequence accompanying Max’s Austrian grandmother’s (Krista Stadler) recounting her previous run-in with Krampus when she was a young girl. Horror fans with a bloodlust should look elsewhere because there’s little to be found here.
Over time audiences have soundly rejected horror films like Silent Night, Deadly Night that set out to make Santa and the holiday itself something to fear. That’s not the case with Krampus. Dougherty actually is celebrating the time of year and lamenting the loss of tradition that heavy commercialism has been chipping away at. There’s a good moral to the story and though it starts off tentative and takes a while to get going, it has a terrific final act. At times I wanted the film to be more than it was, maybe a little scarier, maybe a little less on-the-nose in its observances…but it’s a pleasing diversion that tickles as much as it terrifies.
Synopsis: A demon seeks out naughty people to punish them at Christmas time.
Release Date: December 4, 2015
Thoughts: In 2007, writer/director Michael Dougherty crafted a splendid little anthology film, Trick ‘r Treat, that quickly attained a cult status among horror aficionados. It had a fair share of scares but even better it had something that’s missing from most fright flicks…atmosphere. A sequel to Trick ‘r Treat is in the works but Dougherty fans won’t have to wait long for his next jolt joint because clearly he’s still in the holiday spirit with December’s Krampus.
Using the anti-St. Nick figure popularized in Austrian culture as inspiration, the film centers on a dysfunctional family that gathers for the holidays pitted against a horned beast intent on keeping things not so merry and bright. Dougherty has a wicked sense of humor and with wise-acre comedians Adam Scott (The Overnight) and David Koechner (Hit and Run) on board I can kind of see where this one will land on the comedy vs horror scale. Toni Collette (Muriel’s Wedding) also pops up, lending a little dramatic credibility. It looks like good scary fun that I hope won’t veer too far into campy territory.
We did it! We made it through another summer and while the outdoor heat wasn’t too bad (in Minnesota, at least) the box office was on fire.
I’ll admit that I indulged in summer fun a bit more than I should, distracting me from reviewing some key movies over the last three months so I wanted to take this opportunity to relive the summer of 2015, mentioning my thoughts on the movies that got away and analyzing the winners and losers by month and overall.
So sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride read.
I just wasn’t prepared for July. It hit me like a ton of bricks, a wave of cinematic excursions that made my head spin. So many movies were released that it was hard to keep track from week to week what was arriving and what was still waiting for its release date. As you can see below, I had a lot of catching-up to do
The month began with the disappointment of Terminator Genisys. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting from the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger but it for sure wasn’t the muddled misfire that was supposed to reboot this franchise. Badly cast with shoddy special effects, this was supposed to be the beginning of something but should likely be the end (though it did do well overseas so we may yet get another one of these in a few years).
A few summers back I lamented how bad the original Magic Mike was. Trading eye candy entertainment for any semblance of watchable narrative, it was another dud (for me) from Steven Soderbergh. So you’d understand why I wasn’t keen on Magic Mike XXL because I felt we’d already been there done that. Much to my delight, the sequel was much better than its predecessor, maintaining the fun frivolity of the world of male strippers while injecting some personality into the proceedings. Quite possible the biggest surprise of the summer for me.
I learned a lot from the wise documentary Amy, chronicling the rise and fall of Amy Winehouse, the singer with the bluesy voice and broken butterfly backstory. She had a lot to overcome and the film made a compelling argument that she would still be here today had she had a better support system.
Though I loved the Minions in the Despicable Me films, I didn’t care for their solo outing with its half-baked story and less that inspired vocal work. It felt like a quick cash-grab and it looks like it accomplished its goal. Hopefully next time they’ll come back with a better story and more convincing actors.
The found footage horror movie had its death knell with The Gallows, a brainless exercise in tedium peppered with cheap scares and lousy acting. Could have (and should have) been much better.
Now we approach a stretch where I checked out for a bit – but I’m atoning for it now with these mini-reviews.
Movie Review ~ Batkid Begins The Facts: Synopsis: On one day, in one city, the world comes together to grant one 5-year-old cancer patient his wish. Batkid Begins looks at the ‘why’ of this flash phenomenon. Stars: Miles Scott Director: Dana Nachman Rated: PG Running Length: 87 minutes TMMM Score: (7/10) Review: Can I admit something to you and not have you hate me? When I first saw the media frenzy around this back in 2013 I remember rolling my eyes are the saccharine nature of the whole endeavor. Why would an entire city be brought to a screeching halt because of one kid’s wish to be Batman for a day? Well, the documentary Batkid Begins showed me why and by the end I was feeling like a lout for my initial feelings and wiping away the happy tears the film easily brings forth from the viewer. Following the planning and execution by the Make-A-Wish Foundation to give a 5 year old leukemia survivor the day of his dreams, viewers get a glimpse at what goes into even the smallest wish granted by the organization. While it at times comes off like a big advertisement, it’s heart is most certainly in the right place and I found myself getting choked up with each good deed and promise fulfilled by a host of people involved in making the day come off without a hitch. An audience-pleasing winner.
Movie Review ~ The Overnight The Facts: Synopsis: A family “playdate” becomes increasingly interesting as the night goes on. Stars: Adam Scott, Jason Schwartzman, Taylor Schilling, Judith Godrèche Director: Patrick Brice Rated: R Running Length: 79 minutes TMMM Score: (7/10) Review: There and gone in an instant, The Overnight is a film better suited for home viewing anyway. A couple (Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling) new to the area meet Jason Schwartzman at a local playground where both of their children are playing. Their kids have hit it off so Schwartzmann invites the family over for more fun, but when the kids go to bed Schwartzman and his wife Judith Godrèche have more interesting games to play for the unsuspecting couple. Saying more would spoil the fun but it’s an adults only evening with oodles of twists and turns as both couples bare their secrets (and their bodies) before the night is over. Already famous for its full frontal shots of Schwartzman and Scott (sorry, both are wearing prosthetics), at 79 minutes the movie is short but does start to feel long in the middle section. It helps immensely that all four actors are competent and comfortable with the material…the story doesn’t hold back and neither do they.
Movie Review ~ Ant-Man The Facts: Synopsis: Armed with a super-suit with the astonishing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, con-man Scott Lang must embrace his inner hero and help his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym, plan and pull off a heist that will save the world. Stars: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Michael Pena, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, David Dastmalchian, T.I. , Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale, Martin Donovan, Wood Harris, John Slattery, Gregg Turkington, Abby Ryder Fortson Director: Peyton Reed Rated: PG-13 Running Length: 117 minutes TMMM Score: (6/10) Review: Early troubles with the start of production with Ant-Man and some seriously questionable teasers/trailers didn’t get me very excited for this mid-summer superhero movie. I think Marvel was hoping that Ant-Man would score along the lines of last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxybut it’s sadly missing the humor that made Guardians so much fun. It’s not a total wash though because for every 10 minutes of standard origin-story developments, there’s a solid 5 minutes of exciting action sequences to wake audiences up from their slumber. I know that with an origin story you need to cover a lot of ground and Ant-Man, to its additional credit, doesn’t waste much time in getting to the goods…but it’s a cheap-o undertaking and one that feels like a second-string entry in Marvel’s blockbuster universe. Paul Rudd makes for a surprisingly solid action lead as does Corey Stoll as Rudd’s nemesis, but Evangeline Lilly labors too much under her severe wig (that seems to change lengths multiple times, in the middle of scenes) and isn’t a good enough actress to carry some weighty responsibilities. A decent entry as far as Marvel films go…but I’m not clamoring for a sequel any time soon.
Movie Review ~ Irrational Man The Facts: Synopsis: A tormented philosophy professor finds a will to live when he commits an existential act. Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey, Jamie Blackley, Betsy Aidem, Ethan Phillips, Sophie von Haselberg Director: Woody Allen Rated: R Running Length: 96 minutes Trailer Review:Here TMMM Score: (6/10) Review: It happens every year and every year you never quite know what to expect. I’m speaking, of course, of the annual Woody Allen release and like many of the directors works, it’s a hit or miss affair. I’m constantly in awe that Allen has churned out a film a year (sometimes two a year) for the last three decades and even the really bad ones aren’t as terrible as the other dreck dumped on us during the summer. Last year Magic in the Moonlight was dismissed as too slight even for Allen but I enjoyed its frothy charm…something that was missing from the more serious-minded Irrational Man. As a boozy professor that gets into hot water in his New England college town, Joaquin Phoenix was perhaps the wrong choice because the actor plagues himself far too much for Allen’s light material. At least co-star Emma Stone helps keep Phoenix from the quicksand of his own creation but she can’t be in every scene and it’s when Phoenix is on his own that the film goes slack. Then there’s Parker Posey who I’m becoming convinced is simply not of this earth and doesn’t try to hide it anymore. Bizarre line readings and the tendency to let her mouth hang open are only the tip of Posey’s strange acting iceberg. Very much in line with the dark humor of Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, Irrational Man should hold your interest for a time but it’s quickie ending feels like Allen was ready to move on to his next film rather than put a period at the end things.
Movie Review ~ Trainwreck The Facts: Synopsis: Having thought that monogamy was never possible, a commitment-phobic career woman may have to face her fears when she meets a good guy. Stars: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Mike Birbiglia, Colin Quinn, Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John Cena, Vanessa Bayer, Jon Glaser, LeBron James, Method Man Director: Judd Apatow Rated: R Running Length: 125 minutes Trailer Review:Here TMMM Score: (6.5/10) Review: One of the true success stories of the summer has to have been Amy Schumer, not so much for writing and starring in Trainwreck but the collective impact she’s had on the comedy scene. Unapologetic in her crassness and wise in her observations, Schumer is a comic moving like a shooting star and it’s nice to report that I think she’s a pretty decent actress as well. As much as I enjoy Schumer I was nervous that she was attaching herself to director Judd Apatow because Apatow, as we all know, has a way of turning in muddled work. Unfortunately, Apatow’s influence led the film to be about 20 minutes longer than it needed to be and ultimately overstaying its welcome. I don’t care what anyone says about the appearance of LeBron James as a bona fide supporting player, his entire storyline should have been excised and the film wouldn’t have suffered at all. The problems get worse because Apatow likes to cast non-actors in his film and put in cameos when you least expect it…to the detriment of the flow of the narrative. He stumbles badly in several places here but is saved by Schumer and Bill Hader as the opposites attract duo that confidently lead the film. Special mention must, again, be made to Tilda Swinton for disappearing within her role as Schumer’s glam yet grim boss. Worth it for Schumer, Swinton, and Hader…but watch it at home so you can fast forward through the slow Apatow-ish parts.
Movie Review ~ Mr. Holmes The Facts: Synopsis: An aged, retired Sherlock Holmes looks back on his life, and grapples with an unsolved case involving a beautiful woman. Stars: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Hiroyuki Sanada, Roger Allam, Frances de la Tour, Hattie Morahan, Patrick Kennedy, Philip Davis, Milo Parker Director: Bill Condon Rated: PG Running Length: 104 minutes Trailer Review:Here TMMM Score: (8/10) Review: In reality, I probably should have given Mr. Holmes a more thorough review than I’m about to give here…but I have a feeling I’ll have a chance to discuss it more over the next few months because if all is right with the world Ian McKellen will find himself nominated in a few Best Actor categories during the end of the year awards round-up. McKellen plays an aged Sherlock Holmes living in the country, attended to by a no-nonsense housekeeper (Laura Linney) and entertained by her young son. There’s actually three Holmes on display here as the present Holmes recalls two previous cases he was involved with that had an impact on his life. With a smart script from Jeffrey Hatcher adapted from a popular novel, it’s directed with a mellow grandeur by Bill Condon. Condon and McKellen scored before with the fascinating Gods and Monsters and here’s hoping they go the distance with this one too. An interesting tidbit, at one point Holmes ventures out to see a Sherlock Holmes movie…and the actor playing Holmes on screen (Nicholas Rowe) played the detective in 1986’s fun frolic Young Sherlock Holmes.
Movie Review ~ Paper Towns The Facts: Synopsis: A young man and his friends embark upon the road trip of their lives to find the missing girl next door. Stars: Nat Wolff, Halston Sage, Austin Abrams, Cara Delevingne, Justice Smith Director: Jake Schreir Rated: PG-13 Running Length: 109 minutes TMMM Score: (7/10) Review: After The Fault in Our Stars became a runaway hit last summer movie studios were looking for the next big alt-teen romance that could lure YA audiences away from summer action flicks. Turns out they didn’t have to look far because Paper Towns was adapted from the novel by the same author as The Fault in Our Stars. While Paper Towns doesn’t center around a disease that threatens to tear our lovebirds apart, it has its own mystery about it as Nat Wolff goes looking for his recently vanished neighbor (Cara Delevingne) that he’s been enamored with (or more like fascinated by) since they were children. Following the clues she seemingly left for him, Wolff and his friends embark on a journey of discovery where they Learn Life Lessons. The film kept my interest for most of the running length and it’s only in the final passages when all is explained does it feel a little like a letdown. Still, there’s a smart air of riskiness that elevates the film and more often than not it lands on the good side of taking that risky step.
Movie Review ~ Pixels The Facts: Synopsis: When aliens misinterpret video feeds of classic arcade games as a declaration of war, they attack the Earth in the form of the video games. Stars: Adam Sandler, Brian Cox, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad Director: Chris Columbus Rated: PG-13 Running Length: 105 minutes TMMM Score: (3/10) Review: A movie where everyone involved should hang their head in shame. There’s actually some semblance of a good idea here with aliens attacking earth with classic arcade games but unfortunately it gets trampled by Adam Sandler’s lazy acting, Kevin James bad acting, and Josh Gad’s awful everything. Michelle Monaghan looks positively embarrassed to be sharing scenes (especially romantic ones) with Sandler and only Peter Dinklage comes out relatively unscathed in a campy, mullet wearing performance. For fans of ‘80s nostalgia there are some pleasant diversions as video game characters pop up in (supposedly) comical ways and I think that director Chirs Columbus really did give the material a chance to be something interesting…but Sandler and his crew suck the life out of everything and are so devoid of any vested interest that you wonder why you should care at all either.
Movie Review ~ Southpaw The Facts: Synopsis: Boxer Billy Hope turns to trainer Tick Willis to help him get his life back on track. Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Clare Foley, Miguel Gomez, Victor Ortiz, Rita Ora, Naomie Harris Director: Antoine Fuqua Rated: R Running Length: 123 minutes TMMM Score: (6.5/10) Review: By now, we know that Jake Gyllenhaal is a smart actor. With role after role from Prisoners to Nightcrawler to End of Watch we’ve seen that he’s up for most any challenge and likes to dive deep into his roles. So it’s not surprising that he was drawn to this tale of redemption concerning a famous boxer at the top of his game dealt a series of terrible blows (in more ways than one) and his eventual path back to himself. What is surprising is that while the performances are very good you can’t get away from the fact that the story feels recycled and originally intended for a different set of lower string stars. I’m always on the fence regarding Forest Whitaker but as the wise boxing manager that grudgingly comes to Gyllenhaal’s aid, the actor reminds us why he so deserved his Best Actor Oscar for The Last King of Scotland. Also turning in a great performance in Rachel McAdams (The Vow) as Gyllenhaal’s high school sweetheart, mother of his daughter, and the only one that seems to have his best interest at heart.
Southpaw was also at the center of some controversy that arose this summer about movie trailers that give away too much of the film. If you have seen the trailer for Southpaw you know what I’m talking about…if you haven’t, please go into the movie blind. I had a faint idea what the spoiler was and even that made the first ¼ of the film much less involving. Worth it for the performances but gets knocked out by an also-ran plot.
Movie Review ~ Samba The Facts: Synopsis: Samba migrated to France ten years ago from Senegal, and has since been plugging away at various lowly jobs. Alice is a senior executive who has recently undergone a burn-out. Both struggle to get out of their dead-end lives. Samba’s willing to do whatever it takes to get working papers, while Alice tries to get her life back on track until fate draws them together. Stars: Omar Sy, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Tahar Rahim, Izia Higelin, Isaka Sawadogo Director: Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano Rated: R Running Length: 118 minutes TMMM Score: (5.5/10) Review: Of all the movies I’m talking about in this wrap-up this is one I’d bet dollars to donuts that you’ve never heard of. And you couldn’t be blamed because this barely made a blip on the usually forgiving art-house circuit. From the star and directors of 2012’s dynamite The Intouchables comes this story of an immigrant man living in France who crosses paths with a burned out executive when the man is discovered to be an illegal alien. Omar Sy (Jurassic World) and Charlotte Gainsbourg don’t have that much chemistry but in a weird way it works for the oddball romance that develops over the course of the film. I never could get a real feel if the movie was a comedy, drama, or something in between…and neither could most of the people involved. Slightly recommended but only if the plot or stars appeal to you.
That almost did it for July…but there was still one weekend to go! Moving up several months from its planned December release, the fifth installment of the Mission: Impossible franchise had its brains in the right place but at times forgot to bring its brawn. I still prefer Ghost Protocol to Rogue Nation but as long as star Tom Cruise keeps making these films interesting I’ll keep accepting future missions. Here’s hoping he brings along Rebecca Ferguson again because finally there is a female that is every bit a match to Cruise’s daring agent.
I wasn’t sold at all when I heard that Warner Brothers was planning on remaking National Lampoon’s Vacation but as time went on I heard more that it was more of a sequel than a reboot (resequel?) and I started coming around to the idea of a new Vacation. I enjoyed Ed Helms and Christina Applegate as the hapless couple traveling cross-country with their children…but audiences and most critics didn’t. It wasn’t a great movie and was probably too crude to be part of your Vacation marathons…but I have to say the worst part about it was when original stars Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo showed up. Still, I’m hoping it made enough money to warrant a holiday themed sequel. In any event…it’s a damn sight better than European Vacation.
Wow – July didn’t skimp on variety, did it? Arguably the hottest month for releases, it carried over the promise of May and June and laid a path for August to do quite well…but could it top the three months that came before it?
Synopsis: A day-dreamer escapes his anonymous life by disappearing into a world of fantasies filled with heroism, romance and action. When his job along with that of his co-worker are threatened, he takes action in the real world embarking on a global journey that turns into an adventure more extraordinary than anything he could have ever imagined.
Stars: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Sean Penn, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson
Review: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a movie you should see in the theaters on the biggest screen possible. There…I wanted to get that out of the way first and foremost because I know there are some people that want to know if a movie is something they should make the effort to see in theaters or if it’s one they should wait on until it’s available for home consumption. And The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is surely one that will be enjoyed in a movie theater where the picture is clear and the sound is booming.
That’s because director Ben Stiller, cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh (I Don’t Know How She Does It), and composer Theodore Shapiro (Hope Springs) have collaborated well to deliver a movie that looks, sounds, and more importantly FEELS good…and one that some posited would never be made.
Loosely adapted by Steve Conrad from the short story by James Thurber, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty doesn’t align much with the 1947 Danny Kaye film of the same name, jettisoning the earlier films central plot and replacing it with Stiller’s nebbish take on Mitty as a Life magazine photo editor journeying all over the world to track down a single frame of film that is to be used on the cover of the last edition of Life magazine. Adding some wrinkles to this journey is Walter’s tendency to have grand flights of fancy where he says the right thing, wins the girl (Kristen Wiig, Girl Most Likely), and battles back the juvenile antics of his haranguing boss (Adam Scott, Friends with Kids). These daydream-y moments pepper the first half of the film but gradually begin to be supplanted by Walter’s real life adventures, which far surpass anything he could have imagined – giving the whole film a dream-like element that had me wondering more than once if it was all happening in his mind (I won’t give you an answer to that question…you’ll have to decide for yourself).
The film has been pretty unfairly criticized for looking TOO good, more like a well produced Super Bowl commercial than an actual film and I can’t say I agree with that at all. Yes, the cinematography is brilliantly uncluttered, deftly showcasing some beautiful foreign vistas in Greenland/Iceland and various mountain ranges but I believe Stiller and Dryburgh made it that way because we’re seeing the film through the eyes of a man who could never have imagined the sights he’s seeing. Despite some egregious (even for a Hollywood studio standard) product placement, the film is a delight visually.
There’s also some poignant moments in Conrad’s script, whether it be Walter’s interaction with his matter of fact mother (a sweetly salty Shirley MacLaine) and Peter Pan-y sister (Kathryn Hahn, We’re The Millers) or his conversations with a rugged adventure photographer (Sean Penn) that may hold the key to his journey of discovery. Wiig and Stiller’s romance is ever so slightly treacley (of course she’s a divorced single mom and of course there’s a scene where Stiller thinks she’s getting back together with her husband) but Wiig and Stiller are gifted enough to inject these moments with the right kind of gravitas that supersede any failings the script has to offer.
The movie is also genuinely funny, with Stiller’s interaction with a drunk helicopter pilot (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) being the only moment I laughed until I cried in recent memory. The PG rated film is absolutely family friendly but I’d encourage parents to not be deceived that very small children will like this as much as, say, a 10 year old would. This is not a Night at the Museum style of family film…but one that parents can take kids to and have a nice discussion about family and future.
Like The Way Way Back, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has a warm empathy emanating from its core that makes it a very worthy choice for the holiday season. The film stopped and started for years while the right director and star were located and it’s nice to see that Stiller fit the bill for both roles. There’s a lot of solid work on display here and I found Walter Mitty’s adventures to be right on par and possessing more meaning than anything that Iron Man could muster up.
Synopsis: An office worker who lives inside fantasy worlds where he gets to live an adventurous life while romancing his co-worker sets off a global journey to fix things when both of their jobs are threatened
Release Date: December 25, 2013
Thoughts: An entire movie could be made just about the decades long struggle it has been to get this remake of the 1947 Danny Kaye film off the ground. In 1994 the film was rumored to star Jim Carrey and over the years names like Will Ferrell, Owen Wilson, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Mike Myers floated by as would-be Walters…not to mention names like Stephen Spielberg (Lincoln), Ron Howard (Splash!), and Gore Verbinski (The Lone Ranger) being singled out as potential directors. After all was said and done it was just one name that finally took on both acting and directing duties: Ben Stiller. Now, it’s easy to forget that Stiller started out doing much more darker comedic material than the family fluff he’s been involved with lately and after watching the trailer I’m inclined to think that the wait was worth it. Stiller could bring just the right amount of balance to this reworked update and here’s hoping he makes good use out of the other actors cast. A holiday film that hopes to be a hit, I can see this one doing well if everything falls into place like I think it could.
Review: As anyone who has taken a road trip can tell you, the worst part of the trek can be when you’ve run out of things to talk about and are annoyed with your travel mates. You resort to niceties and having polite conversations as a way to distract you from the fact you have hundreds or thousands of miles left in your journey. That’s a great description of The Guilt Trip, the joyless new film starring one Funny Lady and one Stoner Dude.
One of the most frustratingly polite films I’ve ever seen, The Guilt Trip logs a bunch of miles in its cinematic adventure but never gets out of the garage in terms of entertainment. The film reads like a sure-fire winner with the unlikely pairing of Streisand and Rogan as a mother and son who hit the road from New Jersey to California as she accompanies her offspring on a sales pitch trip. This is a film that has an Olympic-sized pool of comedy in front of it but only gets to the end of the diving board before turning around and running away.
Seeming to not want to offend absolutely anyone, it instead winds up being a one way trip to Dullsville courtesy of flat direction from Fletcher (The Proposal) and a wimpy script by Dan Fogelman. I can’t say for sure, but even if the script was written with Streisand in mind it had to have had a major overhaul when she signed up to remove some humor and not sully her pristine and purposeful image. There’s just no other way to explain why the film wouldn’t take advantage of some prime comedic opportunities that it ignores.
Ok…I did laugh a few times. The first was when we meet Streisand, dressed in a typical Jersey jumpsuit with her hair perfectly rumpled she looks every bit the middle aged character we think she should be…until she lifts her hand to touch her hair and reveals those immaculate French manicured nails. The woman reuses water bottles to save the environment but doesn’t have any trouble shelling out bucks to keep her nails nice? Streisand is so overly made up at times that at one point I leaned over to my friend and said “Man, the guy that got to play Streisand is doing a great job.”
Rogan doesn’t fare any better and he looks as uncomfortable in the role as he does in the numerous suits he is poured into. I think Rogan’s pot head persona is nearing the end of its fifteen minutes of fame so it’s possible this was a way to test the waters as a real person…and it’s a failure. His character is such a stubborn doofus that you can’t muster up any kind of sympathy for him. The reasons he asks his mother to go with him on the trip are unclear too…for a time it seems like he asks her along for his own personal benefit but then it changes in a way that makes the audience unclear as to what the purpose was from the start. The final explanation is that there was no real reason for her to come along…aside from the fact that a movie plot depended on it.
Now I can see where the film’s restraint in the comedy department can seem refreshing to those weaned on movies that make jokes at the expense of the defenseless (mothers, old people, fat people, etc) but if the film had any real soul to it I may have gone with it a bit more. It’s plain to see that the movie doesn’t have much going for it aside from its stars whose talents are wasted and a premise that should have been milked for all its worth.
For a movie that takes its stars across the country, it may surprise you to know that neither Streisand nor Rogan left the state due to Streisand’s wish to stay close to home. Scenes of Streisand and Rogan in front of the Grand Canyon look like an effect out of an amusement park photo booth and the endless scenes in cars look like they were filmed in the span of two days. It’s a damn shame that more effort wasn’t put into punching up the script because I’d have watched a movie with Streisand and Rogan stuck in a car if the material was good enough.
So many missed chances and so many laughless minutes…The Guilt Trip is a movie you may find yourself re-writing in your head as the movie is playing out in front of you. With so many far better films playing in theaters now, you’ll be taken a guilt trip of your own making if you see this before pretty much any other film in cinemas now.
Synopsis: An inventor and his mom hit the road together so he can sell his latest invention.
Release Date: December 25, 2012
Thoughts: The script for The Guilt Trip must have been very, very good to lure Babs Streisand back to the big screen. That or she needed the cash to pay for renovations to her house. In any event, the trailer for The Guilt Trip looks to be for a film that will be irresistible to women of a certain age and men of a certain persuasion…but could lure a nice audience thanks to its comedy roots and holiday release.
Review: Oh Bridesmaids, what hath you wrought? The 2011 mega hit made a big buzz because it was a film written by women, starring women, not just for women, and exceedingly funny. First shrugged off as a female answer to the rowdy popularity of The Hangover, it quickly separated itself from the pack of imitators by matching that film laugh for laugh (often beating it). Being released the same summer as the inferior The Hangover: Part II, Bridesmaids was one of the most talked about films of the year…deservedly so.
A year later comes another movie that draws obvious comparisons to Bridesmaids in tone, structure, and even casting (Wilson appears in both films but in different roles). Bachelorette was written and directed by Headland who adapted it from her stage play and it’s not hard to see why the material would have worked well as a live performance. Ribald humor, male strippers, and catty asides probably provided some nice laughs but having not seen the piece I can’t say how many characters/situations were added/embellished for the big screen treatment.
Providing a few nice laughs, Bachelorette unfortunately gets sunk in its multiple excesses of girls behaving badly. None of the three leads are crafted as particularly likable characters so it’s tough to get invested in their shenanigans as they prove to be awful bridesmaids and lousy friends. Without many/any redeemable qualities the women become exhausting cartoons and that creates a rift with the viewer.
It takes a rare performer to make an unlikable character involving and sadly Dunst is far from up to the task. As the head honcho bridesmaid, it’s never clear why she’s friends with the bride (Wilson, operating in a far less quirky vibe than she has in Bridesmaids, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, and the upcoming Pitch Perfect) or why she’s so dang angry. Dunst just doesn’t have the timing, skill, or commitment for comedy and she’s in way over her head before the film is even half over.
Caplan and Fisher have demonstrated a knack for comedy in the past but here they are each playing such stereotypical roles that you know where they’re going to end up long before they do. I’ve a feeling that Caplan will regret playing such a snidely clueless doormat and Fisher will wish she hadn’t played yet another total idiot but both actresses at least roll up their sleeves and dig into their parts which is more than Dunst can say.
Like Bridesmaids, the men operate merely as pawns for the women to chew their scenery with. It’s too bad that the talented guys aren’t called on to do more than move the show along without much functionality but Scott, Marsden, and especially Bornheimer do the best with what they have.
Headlund makes her directing debut here and perhaps a more experienced director could have taken her paper-thin script and made something of it. As it stands, there’s not much style on display and the cinematography by Doug Emmett leaves much to be desired. It’s nearly a point and shoot affair and one wonders if Headlund couldn’t envision her script outside of a confined stage-like setting.
It’s clear from the get-go that this movie got made simply because of the plot description in the hopes of another success with female audiences. It’s not a total wash of a film, let’s be clear. It’s just a glossy copycat film that is trying to capitalize on the success of a hit film without having to really acknowledge that fact.
Having been released On Demand before debuting in the theaters Bachelorette has been a surprise hit, moving to the top of the charts…becoming the first film to do so without first being released in theaters. That may bode well for the film down the road when it’s released in early September…or it may signify that it’s destined to be a Ladies Night In experience.