Duty Calls for a Battle-Hardened Santa in ‘Violent Night’

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“No, Mr. Santa, I expect you to be Violent tonight.” (CREDIT: Allen Fraser/Universal Pictures)

Starring: David Harbour, John Leguizamo, Alex Hassell, Alexis Louder, Leah Brady, Beverly D’Angelo, Edi Patterson, Cam Gigandet

Director: Tommy Wirkola

Running Time: 112 Minutes

Rating: R for The Bloodiest Xmas Ever

Release Date: December 2, 2022 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: So many (and I mean, SO MANY) Christmas films proclaim that we just have to BELIEVE that Santa is real, and if we believe hard enough, he’ll come through for us. According to Violent Night, that belief means that the big guy will save you from a gang of merciless thieves who have their hearts set on stealing your family’s fortune, even though he’s a full-on drunken mess. So it makes sense that he’s played in this go-round by David Harbour, a burly bear of a man who’s still lovable even when he’s barfing over the side of his sleigh. And Violent Night pulls off a similar trick by delivering plenty of treacly holiday sweetness alongside its profoundly massive levels of gore and dismemberment.

What Made an Impression?: The commercials for Violent Night told me that it would be “Die Hard meets Home Alone.” To which I responded: “Die Hard and Home Alone are already pretty similar.” Well, it turns out that description is exactly 100% accurate, because this movie does indeed answer the question “What if John McClane were Kris Kringle and he teamed up with Kevin McAllister as a young girl in a sickeningly wealthy family?”

So it was especially fortuitous that I happened to watch some of Home Alone 2 a few days earlier, and with adult eyes, it helped clarify that every blow to the head surely resulted in (at least) a concussion for the Wet Bandits. Violent Night continues that thought by taking the bloodshed and injuries wrought by rusty nails and bowling balls to their logical conclusions, and also adding plenty of gunfire to the mix. If you’re in the mood for something this deadly, you’ll probably laugh a fair amount, though you might get exhausted a bit by all the mayhem.

Director Tommy Wirkola made his name with the 2009 Nazi zombie flick Dead Snow, so the unrelenting demented mayhem was very much to be expected in Violent Night. Naturally enough then, the most fun is had by those who are most allowed to revel in the bloodbath, particularly Harbour, whose Santa originated as a Viking warrior; John Leguizamo as Mr. Scrooge, the leader of the burglars; and Leah Brady as Trudy the troublemaker (who’s still very much on the nice list). The soapy family drama dynamics aren’t quite as fulfilling, though they are appropriately foul-mouthed, with Beverly D’Angelo setting the right non-motherly tone as the family matriarch. But it’s a messy world that we live in right now, and this may just be the Santa we need to deliver us holiday cheer in 2022.

Violent Night is Recommended If You Like: Milk and cookies chased with top shelf liquor

Grade: 3 out of 5 Candy Canes

What Happens When a TV Journalist Experiences His Own Tragic Love Story? ‘Spoiler Alert’!

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Spoiler Alert: These guys are in the movie (CREDIT: Giovanni Rufino / © 2022 FOCUS FEATURES LLC.)

Starring: Jim Parsons, Ben Aldridge, Sally Field, Bill Irwin

Director: Michael Showalter

Running Time: 112 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Straightforward Talk About Adult Relationships and Serious Illness

Release Date: December 2, 2022 (Limited Theaters)/December 9, 2022 (Expands Nationwide)

What’s It About?: Michael Ausiello probably would’ve been perfectly fine writing about TV and living on his own for the rest of his life. Or maybe I’m being a little presumptive… Either way, the version of him played by Jim Parsons in Spoiler Alert (based on Ausiello’s memoir of the same name) seems pretty content with his cushy TV Guide gig and heading home on his own to his Jersey City apartment at the end of every workday. But then he goes out drinking one night and just happens to really hit it off with a fellow by the name of Kit Cowan (played here by Ben Aldridge). It’s the early 2000s, so it’s becoming a gradually easier time for a gay couple to be visible in America. But just as soon as Michael and Kit become comfortable in their togetherness, Kit is suddenly struck by terminal cancer. And there’s nothing for Michael to do except constantly be by his side, and then adapt their story into a big screen-worthy romantic journey.

What Made an Impression?: Parsons and Aldridge’s chemistry is low-key and pretty dang believable, surely partly because Ausiello was on hand as one of the producers. There’s not really any effort to make this story representative of all queer love stories, and it’s nice to be free of that burden. There can be value in speaking for the community at large, but in this case it just makes the most sense for it to be only Michael and Kit’s story, and their story alone

But what really sells Spoiler Alert to me are the flashbacks to Michael’s childhood with his brothers and widowed mother. They’re presented like a stereotypical cheesy family sitcom, which is basically catnip to a generation that was raised on the likes of Growing Pains and Full House. Of course, it also speaks right to my heart as a fellow professional connoisseur of entertainment. But I think this approach can also work for any adult who stays in touch with their inner child by searching for a way back to a comfortable home.

And it also helps that Sally Field and Bill Irwin are on hand as Kit’s fully supportive parents. Field is a veteran of director Michael Showalter’s oeuvre, and well, if you’ve been paying attention to cinema of the past 40 years, you know that her casting makes 1000% perfect sense. Irwin is a bit more of an oddball choice, as he’s known primarily for mind- and body-bending roles, like a mutant scientist on FX’s Legion and the voice of TARS in Interstellar. But weirdos have hearts too, and some of them grow up to be dads, so he proves to be an inspired choice. Overall, the tone is just spot on throughout. Spoiler alert: your heart will swell full-to-bursting by the end.

Spoiler Alert is Recommended If You Like: Bittersweet romcoms, 80s Sitcoms, 90s Sitcoms, The rise of Peak TV culture

Grade: 4 out of 5 Doctor’s Visits

‘Glass Onion’: A Friends Out Moviegoing Experience

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Will they solve it? (CREDIT: John Wilson/Netflix © 2022)

Starring: Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista, Jessica Henwick, Madelyn Cline

Director: Rian Johnson

Running Time: 139 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Release Date: November 23, 2022 (Theaters)/December 23, 2022 (Netflix)

I saw Glass Onion (one of those newfangled Knives Out mysteries) in a cinema with a larger-than-normal party than I usually go to the theater with. And I’m very grateful for all of that! That’s what it called for, and if I’d been watching on Netflix, I’m worried that my attention would have strayed too much during the first act. Undoubtedly, that mental wandering would have been a HUGE problem if I’d looked down while Ed Norton was dressed just like Tom Cruise in Magnolia. And that just simply would have been unacceptable.

Grade: A Satisfactory Amount of Flavor When Peeling the Layers of the Onion

Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 11/25/22

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A Willow that’s NOT whipping hair back and forth
(CREDIT: Disney+. ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved)

Every week, I list all the upcoming (or recently released) movies, TV shows, albums, podcasts, etc. that I believe are worth checking out.

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (Theaters)
Glass Onions: A Knives Out Mystery (November 23 in Theaters, December 23 on Netflix)
Nanny (November 23 in Theaters, December 16 on Amazon Prime)
Strange World (Theaters) – I could’ve sworn I heard Will Forte in the trailer, but apparently not.
White Noise (November 25 in Theaters, December 30 on Netflix) – Based on a book that is postmodern.

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special (November 25 on Disney+)
Willow Series Premiere (November 30 on Disney+) – I remember watching the movie when I was really young.
Gossip Girl Season 2 Premiere (December 1 on HBO Max)

That’s Auntertainment! Karaoke Korner 31

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CREDIT: YouTube Screenshots

Jeff’s cousin Megan sends him back to the 90s* in the latest Karaoke Korner! (*-Only 90s kids will understand.)

N.B.: Jeff accidentally miscounts which edition of Karaoke Korner this is during the episode.

Is What the World Needs Now ‘Triangle of Sadness’?

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“Why is your triangle so sad?” (CREDIT: NEON)

Starring: Harris Dickinson, Charlbi Dean, Dolly de Leon, Zlatko Burić, Vicki Berlin, Jean-Christophe Folly, Woody Harrelson

Director: Ruben Östlund

Running Time: 149 Minutes

Rating: R

Release Date: October 28, 2022

As I ventured out to go see Triangle of Sadness, I was wishin’ and hopin’ that it would include “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” as that was my favorite part of the trailer. I absolutely love that song, whereas I’m a little more lukewarm on Ruben Östlund. I enjoyed The Square, but Force Majeure was mostly not my style.

So I’m sad to report that Triangle featured no crooning from Jackie DeShannon (or any cover version), nor was there any sufficiently joyful replacement. So I’m left to say: food poisoning is terrifying, and the shipwrecked section was best when it most felt like Gilligan’s Island.

Grade: Not What the World Needs Now

Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 11/18/22

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I wondered where that fish did go. (CREDIT: Netflix)

Every week, I list all the upcoming (or recently released) movies, TV shows, albums, podcasts, etc. that I believe are worth checking out.

Bones and All (Limited Theaters November 18, Expands Nationwide November 23)
Disenchanted (November 18 on Disney+) – I really liked Enchanted, hopefully I like this too.
The Menu (Theaters)
She Said (Theaters)

Ziwe Season 2 Midseason Premiere (November 20 on Showtime)
Wednesday Season 1 (November 23 on Netflix) – Wednesday premiering on a Wednesday.
MST3K Turkey Day Marathon (November 24 in the Gizmoplex)
-National Dog Show (November 24 on NBC)

-Neil Young & Crazy Horse, World Record
-Röyskopp, Profound Mysteries III
-Weyes Blood, And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow

Music on TV
-Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (November 19 on HBO)

-FIFA World Cup (November 21-December 18 on FOX and FS1) – Kickin’ that ball.

‘Bones and All’ is the Cannibal Love Story We Could Never Have Prepared For

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“Send us your bones!” (CREDIT: Yannis Drakoulidis/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures
© 2022 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Starring: Taylor Russell, Timothée Chalamet, Mark Rylance, André Holland, Michael Stuhlbarg, Chloë Sevigny, David Gordon Green

Director: Luca Guadagnino

Running Time: 130 Minutes

Rating: R for Bloody Chomping and Some Horny Cannibals

Release Date: November 18, 2022 (Limited)/November 23, 2022 (Expands Nationwide)

What’s It About?: If you only knew the poster and the title of Bones and All, you’d probably think it’s some overflowingly passionate romance. You know, the sort of thing where the main characters scream, “I love you! With every fiber of my being! BONES AND ALL!” Director Luca Guadagnino and one of his stars, Timothée Chalamet, certainly have memorable experience in the genre, what with 2017’s Call Me by Your Name. And in fact, it basically is that movie, except that the main characters have an unquenchable hunger to literally consume their fellow human beings.

What Made an Impression?: When Mark Rylance shows up, hoo boy, there’s no turning back. He’s a veteran “Eater” who arrives to provide some guidance to Maren (Taylor Russell), who upon turning 18 has been abandoned by her father (André Holland), who has decided that everyone will be safer if she’s on her own. With an inscrutable accent and an outfit that screams “arts and crafts cannibal hobbyist,” Rylance’s Sully is an unforgettable presence who is sure to make you confused about what type of movie you’re watching. Is it campy comedy, quirky indie whatchamacallit, or disturbing-to-the-nth-degree psychological horror? At first, Sully seems kind of charming, but then he’s totally a villain. This is the kind of movie that you have to sit with for a while to fully digest it, as it’s kind of inventing its whole deal as it goes along.

Now, you may be wondering: will I, or should I, root for the central love story? Maren and Lee (Chalamet) both seem like decent people, who just have the rare (mis)fortune of being bound by an unusually violent biological impulse. They do their best to not be too destructive about it and to live as normally human as possible when they can. But it’s more or less impossible to be 100% perfect in their efforts. I found myself on their sides, as much as I could be. A big reason for that was because I just wanted to see where this was going. Bones and All has a similar vibe of social alienation as most vampire tales, but with a taste that I’ve never quite experienced before. Simply put, I’ve never before gone bones and all the way myself, and now that I have, I’m not sure how much I enjoyed it, but I do kind of want to try it again.

Bones and All is Recommended If You Like: The Vampire Diaries, Road Trips, Allowing yourself to be disarmed

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Bites

‘She Said’ Shines a Thrilling Beacon

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She Said (CREDIT: Universal Pictures)

Starring: Zoe Kazan, Carey Mulligan, Patricia Clarkson, Andre Braugher, Jennifer Ehle, Samantha Morton, Angela Yeoh, Ashley Judd

Director: Maria Schrader

Running Time: 129 Minutes

Rating: R for Detailed Discussions of Sexual Assault

Release Date: November 18, 2022 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: Looking back now (and even while it was going on), the downfall of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein seems like it was inevitable. But it wasn’t going to just happen on its own. Instead, of course, it required the dedication of plenty of dogged people. This included the work of New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor. They’re played in She Said by Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan, respectively. The movie firmly establishes itself in a long and beloved line of based-on-a-true-story thrillers about journalists uncovering abuses of power. Twohey and Kantor have a lot of non-disclosure agreements to work around, and a lot of sources rightfully scared of retribution, but they also have the wherewithal for their simple sense of right and wrong to guide them towards what needs to be done.

What Made an Impression?: She Said could have easily been a traumatizing and depressing experience. Its focus, after all, is on one of the most famous people to have ever been accused and convicted of harassment, assault, and rape. But it doesn’t linger in the darkness any more than it has to, and I’m so thankful about how fully rounded the portrayals of Twohey and Kantor are. Despite reporting on the worst of humanity, they still manage to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. There’s one scene in particular when they’re about to go interview a source, and they discover that they’re wearing basically the same white summer dress, so Kantor declares the two of them “reporting twins.” That’s basically the cutest thing ever, and it’s fully genuine despite being stuffed between all the horrors. And the glimpses into their home lives with their husbands and young kids are similarly adorable in a slice-of-life way.

The rest of the cast is filled with veterans providing welcome support, like Andre Braugher and Patricia Clarkson in the newsroom; and Samantha Morton, Jennifer Ehle, and Ashley Judd (as herself) among the sources. But perhaps the most crucial creative contribution comes from composer Nicholas Britell, who’s probably best known for his award-nominated work on Barry Jenkins and Adam McKay projects. That’s already a fair range of tones and genres he’s put out, and he knows exactly what the assignment is in this case. Namely, it’s all about setting a vibe of constantly pulse-pounding action. The action in this case involves making phone calls, driving across town, booking impromptu flights, and clacking away at the keyboard. It’s not the stuff of whizbang wizardry, but it’s essential and requires a steady hand, and the score is there to constantly, safely remind us that.

She Said is Recommended If You Like: All the President’s Men, Spotlight

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 NDAs

Plenty to Chow Down On in ‘The Menu’

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You show me your Menu, I’ll show you mine (CREDIT: Eric Zachanowich/Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved)

Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Fiennes, Nicholas Hoult, Hong Chau, Janet McTeer, Judith Light, John Leguizamo, Reed Birney, Paul Adelstein, Aimee Carrero, Arturo Castro, Mark St. Cyr, Rob Yang

Director: Mark Mylod

Running Time: 106 Minutes

Rating: R for Deadly Threats That Demand to Be Taken Seriously

Release Date: November 18, 2022 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: Would you pay upwards of $1000 for a seat at the most exclusive molecular gastronomy restaurant in the world? I certainly wouldn’t! Although maybe I would think about it if somebody else were paying for me, though I might still look askance at the whole affair. In that way I’m very much like Margot, Anya Taylor-Joy’s character in The Menu, as she finds herself whisked along by her pompous foodie boyfriend Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) to a remote island dedicated to the culinary craftsmanship of Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). He’s assembled an exacting series of courses and a very particular lineup of guests for the evening. This is his last hurrah, and that’s very bad news for his customers, if you catch my drift…

What Made an Impression?: I gotta be honest: I thought this movie was going to be about cannibals. And that very much made me want to go see it! But there are in fact zero cannibals in The Menu, at least not literally. Nevertheless, I still had a good time. So that should tell you something. When a film simultaneously fully defies and satisfies expectations, you know we’re in business. Director Mark Mylod delivers the fun and games by meticulously altering reality just so. You might find yourself screaming, “There’s no way this could possibly happen!” Yet in the same breath, you’ll gladly concede, “But I’m grateful for this fantastical catharsis.”

A big reason for that is because Taylor-Joy is so preternaturally easy to root for. The brand of seared-black satirical humor on display here requires characters who obviously deserve their comeuppance. Most of the cast fits that bill with aplomb, but Margot on the other hand is an unassuming interloper. It’s nice to have a peep of light piercing through the darkness. Otherwise, you’d have to wallow in the stink of the wisecrackers, which can be entertaining, but also somewhat exhausting. With a surrogate like Margot, however, you can safely smile as everything burns.

The Menu is Recommended If You Like: Eating the rich

Grade: 4 out of 5 Courses

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