Blog Archives

Krampus (2015)

jEYZE9aNot quite funny enough and not quite scary enough, Krampus is a holiday antidote that wants to be a modern-day Gremlins but needed to be nastier, darker, or some variant with the suffix of –er. Writer/director Michael Dougherty has been down this holiday road before with Trick ‘r Treat, a superb horror anthology genre gem that was buoyed by a twisted sense of humor and a clever criss-crossing set of storylines that pollinated plenty of payoffs. Krampus begins with a brilliant opening credit sequence that sets a high bar o promise the movie will ultimately be unable to deliver, watching slow-mo stampeding shoppers fighting over Black Friday discounts set to a classic Bing Crosby yuletide tune. From there it’s more a Griswald dysfunctional family gathering until one of the young boys rips up his letter to Santa in disillusionment, calling forth Krampus and his minions. From there the family is terrorized and come closer together in struggle, trying to understand their predicament. There are a few great character designs for the minions, especially a jack-in-the-box whose face unhinges into a sarlac pit of teeth. The PG-13 rating keeps the film from getting too gory or too wicked, which also belies the fact that at heart it’s really an old-fashioned Christmas morality play about loving one another. I was ready to groan with what appeared to be the ending but Dougherty at least subverts the expected and makes sure that there are lasting consequences for bad behavior. This isn’t going to be remembered as a holiday classic but if you’re looking for a fun horror comedy, Krampus at least has something to offer before you feel left wanting.

Nate’s Grade: B-

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)

Anchorman2_PosterA lot has changed in the nine years since the raucous, instantly quotable, and deeply silly hit comedy, Anchorman. Steve Carell, Will Ferrell, and Paul Rudd have all become big stars (sorry Dave Koechner), producer Judd Apatow has become a comedy empire unto himself, and director Adam McKay has gone on to helm several other hit Ferrell collaborations. As much as I loved Anchorman, and I unabashedly do, I was nervous about a sequel capturing the same magic. While Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues cannot be as good as its predecessor; my worries were mainly unfounded because this is still the funniest movie of the year. Simply put, if you’re a fan of the original, you’ll find enough to enjoy, possibly even love, with this latest chapter. The laughs-to-minute ratio is pretty high, as long as you don’t mind some scenic detours. The plot is much looser this time with several competing storylines that come in and out of focus. There are segments that could have been cut completely, like Ron’s bout with blindness, but I laughed enough that I never minded. But that ending 15 minutes is where the filmmakers drop any pretension of reality and double down on absurdity. It’s no surprise that those last crazy 15 minutes were my favorite. The cast is universally strong together, working off one another’s comedic styles so effortlessly, but the plot is very much a kitchen sink approach. I’m happy that Ferrell and McKay, co-writers again (though it’s hard to credit a collaborative improv), didn’t feel the need to recycle many jokes from the first film, reliving their old hits for fans hungry for instant nostalgia. Anchorman 2 is the same brilliantly broad comedy and absurdist dada experiment every loyal fan was hoping for. Give the gift of Ron Burgandy this holiday season and stay classy, America.

Nate’s Grade: B+

Piranha 3DD (2012)

Wow, I was not expecting the follow-up to the so-bad-it’s-excellent Piranha 3D to pretty much just inhabit the “so bad” spectrum, though I ignored warning signs at my own risk. I found the 2010 Piranha to be a sheer blast of campy entertainment, with some world-class gore effects and a game cast. I was actually terribly excited about a sequel; I’m ashamed to admit it now. Where did things go so horribly wrong? Much like Expendables 2, the movie’s tone shifts from tongue-in-cheek 80s throwback to meta self-awareness. The movie becomes more of a lousy comedy with some absurd violence rather than a horror movie with a nasty sense of humor. The entire premise is so labored, that a water park would become piranha-infested, and the characters are so unlikable; to dub them one-dimensional is to be too kind. The acting is abysmal even by bottom-of-the-barrel B-movie standards. The celebrity cameos feel wasted, with David Hasselhoff soaking up every second of desperation. The tension is next to nil and the gore effects are pretty cheesy, trading gallons of blood for ingenuity (many character deaths occur off screen, like Gary Busey’s). Then once the piranhas strike, the movie just completely abandons any sense of reality and becomes a gonzo comedy of the absurd, with characters behaving like idiots from another dimension. There’s even one character that gets decapitated by a simple string of flags. It’s at this point that Piranha 3DD drops any slapped-together sense of purpose. And yet this ghoulish mess can only barely make it to a scant 70 minutes (good luck getting through the abominably unfunny end credits outtakes). Reportedly, 3DD had almost the same budget of 3D. Where the hell did that money go? Piranha 3DD completely misfires on every level, failing as a horror movie, a horror-comedy, a comedy, a gore movie, hell, as a suitable movie. Whatever the metric, this movie blows. If you’re hard-pressed for gratuitous nudity soaked in blood, watch the superior 2010 Piranha film instead. I’m going to start drinking heavily and forget I ever looked forward to this monstrosity on taste.

Nate’s Grade: D

Thank You for Smoking (2006)

As soon as I saw a trailer for Thank You for Smoking I was in love. I found the book for cheap and read it with months to spare before the film reached my local theater. Admittedly, my expectations were high because the book was wonderful, and Thank You for Smoking as a movie is equally wonderful and a very good film adaptation.

This is a wickedly funny satire that skewers all sides in the political debate about Big Tobacco, and the film doesn’t take a stand, which is refreshing. It has a firm grip on its humor and gleefully gives its finger to political correctness. There?s a lunch group called the M.O.D. (Merchants of Death) squad where reps for Alcohol, Firearms, and Tobacco, of course, argue over whose product is harder to spin. It’s likely the snort-because-you-can’t-believe-they-said-that movie of the year. The tar-black humor in Thank You for Smoking rolls off so casually. This is a comedy that respects the intelligence of its audience and doesn’t dumb down its barbs or its satire. Aaron Eckhart was born to play the role of Nick Naylor, tobacco’s master spin artist and public charlatan. Naylor is conniving, slippery, and yet immensely likable not in spite of these traits but because of them. Eckhart is downright charming and you can see how he could dupe a nation, even if he’s only doing it for the challenge. Thank You for Smoking has one of the finest assembled casts in a long time, and every member fires on all cylinders. This is a film brimming with confidence and it’s evident with every frame. You almost might feel guilty for wanting to capture a contact buzz from how polished, assured and witty the flick is.

I never thought I’d say so but it sure looks like adapter/director Jason Reitman has a far more promising future right now than his dad, Ivan. Jason, the son, keeps the movie brisk, packed with characters, subplots, jokes, and a visual whimsy. This is a terrific adaptation of a terrific book, and Reitman really hones in on the mechanics of debate and lobbyist practices with aplomb. A scene where Nick teaches his adoring son the tricks of debate with ice cream is outstanding. Thank You for Smoking crackles with dialogue to die for, like Nick’s boss BR (J.K. Simmons) saying, “We sell cigarettes. They’re cool, and addictive, and available — the job is practically done for us.” My only complaints with the film, besides that it’s too short at just 90 minutes, is the manufactured danger seems a bit too slight and too easily overcome. Nick quite simply vanquishes whatever threat his reporter sex buddy Heather (Katie Holmes) posed. Otherwise, Thank You for Smoking is a superb movie all around and there’s no reason you shouldn’t see it. Take the hit.

Nate’s Grade: A

Waiting… (2005)

I have always respected restaurant workers; it’s just how I’ve been brought up. Short of elephant in vitro fertilization, being a waiter has got to be one of the hardest, most thankless jobs on the planet. The waiter (or server, the popularized non-gender specific term) is always the last responsible for food and the first to bear the brunt of a customer’s wrath. They’re easy targets. Their livelihood is also dependent on the idea of common decency in mankind. For these tortured, put upon, overlooked lot comes a new comedy aimed to ease the pain. Waiting… is a balls-out (pun very much intended) gross-out comedy that will make you a better, more sympathetic tipper (I generally start at 20 percent).

Welcome to the wonderful, family-friendly world of Shenaniganz. It’s another day of business for the restaurant staff and another day of enduring the slings and arrows of unruly customers. Monty (Ryan Reynolds), the leader of the pack, escorts a newbie (Freaks and Geeks‘ John Francis Daley) through the rules and customs of the Shenaniganz family. The cooks (Dane Cook, Luis Guzman) like to get randy at work, the bus boys (Max Kasch, MTV’s Andy Milonakis) like to hide in freezers and toke up, and the wait staff (Anna Faris, Justin Long) are all dating each other. Meanwhile, Dean (Long) is mulling over whether to take the manager’s job offered to him by his buffoonish boss (David Koechner). He feels his life is going nowhere and he’s stuck in a dead-end job. And there’s a store-wide game where workers try and get other people to inadvertently look at their genitals. God I hope this doesn’t go on when I order my food.

Bishop (Chi McBride) tells two other characters, “You guys are so one-dimensional.” It’s like the movie’s doing my job for me. Waiting… is stocked with underdeveloped characters that don’t even seem used properly. They all have one characteristic of note, from the white wannabe rappers to the bitchy self-loathing server that’s been there longer than anyone else. There’s a lesbian bartender and by the end of the movie that’s still the only thing you know or feel about her. Dean’s girlfriend (Kaitlin Doubleday) has nothing to add to her character, nothing to really say, no personality, she’s just “the girlfriend.” Waiting… has so many lame, poorly developed characters that go nowhere and shed little purpose or personality. It’s a general waste of talent, especially Faris and Guzman.

Reynolds is a charming and gifted comedic actor. He’s got the rat-a-tat-tat delivery down cold and adds a great polish to dialogue that ordinarily wouldn’t seem funny. He can seem at once jerky, knowing, charming, distasteful, and funny. Consider Reynolds a Vince Vaughn Jr. in the making. Long is supposed to play a character dissatisfied with his bearings in life, yet he comes across as disinterested in being in the movie. You almost expect him to shrug his shoulders and just say, “Whatever.” Long too is a very capable comedic actor but he needs far broader roles (Dodgeball) than something where he has to shuffle his feet and mope a lot. As stated earlier, Waiting… really wastes most of its talent by stranding them in thankless roles that don’t give them much to do or add. Koechner is the bright spot as a clueless, leering buffoon of a manager who keeps trying to connect with “the kids” and score with some as well.

The story feels the same way. For a 90 minute movie so much of this feels unbearably plodding. Waiting… sets up the life of a restaurant well but then can’t find much to do. The story feels formless and the characters can?t provide any direction because of their limitations. The plot seems like a group of anecdotes looking for structure. Even the comedy is rather uninspired and bland. Waiting… attempts gross-out guffaws but just ends up becoming, well, kind of gross. Dropping food and serving it doesn’t exactly register on the Ha-Ha meter no matter how many times the act is repeated. The gross-out apex comes when vengeance is heaped upon a very hostile customer with an assembly line of new “additions” to her order. In this one instance the gross-out is transcended because the audience cares about the situation. Most of the humor is juvenile and not even good at it; the penis-showing-game is inherently homophobic and a running gag with little payoff. The best joke in Waiting… is the film’s production design; Shenaniganz looks nearly identical to those homogenized chain restaurants dotting the landscape. If you stay throughout the entire end credits you’ll discover that all the crap on the walls is actually an elaborate, Rube Goldberg-esque device.

Waiting… is a very knowledgeable film about the food service industry, what with writer/director Rob McKittrick spending years and years in restaurants. I think the only way you could seriously enjoy this comedy, while sober, is if you have experience working in food service. My fiancée has spent years as a server and she identified more with the characters than I ever could. There are scenes in Waiting… that are a server’s fantasy, like when Dean returns his measly one-dollar tip back to his customer. The movie is a safe release for people in the field, much like Office Space. McKittrick even thanks Kevin Smith in the closing credits, but Waiting… doesn’t have an iota of the wit, intelligence, and comedic savvy of Clerks. This is a bargain basement comedy that will largely appeal to fellow restaurant slaves yearning to have their beaten voice heard.

Waiting… is an aimless comedy with no characters to feel for, little personality beyond its knowledge of the restaurant environment, and a cast done in by one-note roles and bland gross-out jokes. Reynolds walks away with his dignity and adds a comedic polish to some otherwise ordinary jokes. Mostly, the film feels like a waste of time, energy, and talent. Waiting… will definitely appeal to people who have felt the wrath of working in food service, but objectively this is one comedy that just doesn’t order up any laughs.

Nate’s Grade: C

%d bloggers like this: