Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Plans A & B: Legend and Krampus

The plan on Saturday was to catch Krampus at the Regal in Fenway on Saturday and then Chi-Raq at AMC on Sunday - making plans around MoviePass's restrictions can lead to stuff like that - but that got messed up when the former sold out before I could purchase tickets, even though there was a good fifteen, twenty minutes before the showtime and the lobby didn't exactly look full when I was there. I'm kind of getting concerned about their seat upgrades - it's been going on for about three months now, and they're only up to eight screens in use, and I wonder just how much capacity they've sacrificed for reserved seating in big, comfy recliners, and how much the price will go up to make up the difference.

Still, I'd been planning to get to Legend anyway, and it's a lot of fun, enough that even when I started recognizing the same frustration I had with Black Mass and, indeed, most gangster movies - they tend to be a list of memorable incidents rather than an actual story - it's at least got Tom Hardy being memorable, which counts for a lot. Krampus has a bit of a similar issue, in that like a lot of horror movies it's sort of an assembly of decent ideas for scares that doesn't quite come together - but it's also got a cast that I really liked more than I was expecting. It's kind of rare for a horror movie to really seem to want the audience to like it's characters - it seems far more common to come up with ways that their passing won't be mourned - so the realization that I was rapidly growing fond of even the cousins built to be obnoxious was kind of exciting.

So, neither one is perfect, but both have something worth recommending. That's a pretty good weekend at the movies.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 5 December 2015 in AMC Boston Common #19 (first-run, DCP)

One of my favorite ways to mess around during awards season and make the point that determining the winners is not nearly so important as shining a light on noteworthy achievements is finding a way to suggest nominating folks with dual rules in a film twice. I am extremely tempted to do that with Legend, because just one Tom Hardy is probably twice as much roguish charm as most gangster movies can muster, and doubling up on that presents the potential for something spectacular. It's also something that the rest of the film can't compete with, a problem since this isn't one of those performance-capture things where Hardy can play every role.

He can play Reginald and Ronald Kray, though. Gangsters in London's East End in the 1960s, they form sharp contrasts - Reggie is brilliant, tactical, and enjoys hobnobbing with the celebrities who come to his club & casino to get close to danger; Ron is a mentally-unstable thug who really enjoys the parts of being a gangster that involve violence. They're not natural rivals - when the younger sister of Reggie's driver catches his eye, Ron isn't envious; he likes the lads, after all. Still, this Frances Shea (Emily Browning) is more interested in the glamorous surface of the club business than the linked crime, Ron is none too fond of the fellow handling their books (David Thewlis), nor the idea of working for the American mob. Oh, and then there's the Scotland Yard detective (Christopher Eccleston) who's been trying to put them away for years.

Though writer/director Brian Helgeland is American, this being based on a true story explains a lot about Guy Ritchie and the other folks making offbeat British gangster movies - with these guys as a model, it's no wonder those fims are darkly comic and frequently show a flair for the absurd, as there seems to be a great deal of that too the Krays, especially compared to the businesslike Americans who show up. There's no shortage of bizarre and larger-than-life anecdotes to build a movie around, and Helgeland does a fine job of connecting each to the next, from the first scenes of Reggie trading the trail that Scotland Yard has put on him to Ron's later excesses. It's breezy as real-life gangster stories go, admittedly glossing over the day-to-day violence to keep things entertaining.

Full review on EFC.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 6 December 2015 in AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run, DCP)

There's another horror movie featuring the titular dark shadow of Santa Claus out this holiday season (A Christmas Horror Story), and it's perhaps telling that neither group of filmmakers saw this monster as carrying a whole movie. In A Christmas Horror Story, he's basically one selection in an anthology; here he's more or less a final boss for the heroes to face after everything else. It's a smart choice; Krampus may be a nasty piece of work, but it's the lead-up to him that makes this particular movie a whole lot of fun.

As things begin, it's already a rough holiday season for the Engel family; father Tom (Adam Scott) is overworked, and his wife Sarah (Toni Collette) is frustrated with that and busting her hump making preparations for festivities that she knows will not be appreciated by her sister Linda (Allison Tolman) and her husband Howard (David Koechner), not to mention their uncouth children. These cousins coming over has teenage daughter Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) wanting time away from her family even more, and even son Max (Emjay Anthony), who loves Christmas as much as his German grandmother/"Omi" (Krista Stadler), is getting into fights at the holiday pageant. The fact that his heart is in the right place may be what proves dangerous in this case, as his torn-up letter to Santa drifts into sinister hands and a strange blizzard strikes their neighborhood.

The film opens with scenes of Black Friday-esque madness at a shopping mall, ironically accompanied by classic mellow Christmas music, but even then there is the sense that the knives are not out and sharpened to the extent that they perhaps could be; these images are familiar and director Michael Dougherty stages them with an eye toward getting a laugh, but from the very start, he's attacking the film from the angle that Christmas is worth saving, and that there is something good in all the frustrations that go along with it. Maybe he and his co-writers shouldn't; maybe it would be a sharper story if Max's dedication seemed hopelessly native and he had to really fight everything to being back the spirit of Christmas (or, with this being a horror movie, ultimately lose it himself). Just looking at the themes in play, this seems like it would be the smart move.

Full review on EFC.

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