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

‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ Review: Shakespeare in the Dark

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The Tragedy of Macbeth (CREDIT: Alison Cohen Rosa/A24)

Starring: Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Corey Hawkins, Brendon Gleeson, Harry Melling, Bertie Carvel, Alex Hassell, Kathryn Hunter, Moses Ingram, Ralph Ineson, Sean Patrick Thomas, Stephen Root, Brian Thompson, Richard Short

Director: Joel Coen

Running Time: 105 Minutes

Rating: R for Bloody Swordplay

Release Date: December 25, 2021 (Theaters)/January 14, 2022 (Apple TV+)

When reviewing a new Shakespeare adaptation, especially one of the Bard’s most popular productions, it makes sense to ask: what makes this version different? So as Joel Coen goes solo to take on The Scottish Play, what uniqueness has he brought to the table? Well, he did cast his wife Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth, so that could potentially be some fertile ground for psychoanalysis. Or maybe not! She’s already been in plenty of his films, and I’m willing to guess that this isn’t the first time that a director’s wife has been cast in something Shakespearean. Denzel Washington certainly brings some more melanin than usual to the title role, but ultimately that’s neither here nor there. He’s Denzel Washington after all, so why not cast him in one of the most dramatically hefty parts in all of English-language drama?

Overall, one word comes to mind when trying to identify The Tragedy of Macbeth‘s uniqueness, and that word is: surreal. I don’t know if that’s what Coen was specifically aiming for, and I in fact wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t a consideration at all. But no matter how it happened, it showed up. One huge reason for that is the dialogue itself; it’s strange to speak in iambic pentameter all the time, after all. On top of that, the geography within the castle walls never quite makes visual sense. Instead, it’s like a maze that the characters are perpetually stuck within. Combine that with Bruno Delbonnel’s stark black-and-white cinematography, and the whole film comes across as a dream that curdles into a nightmare. And as so often happens when I see a movie that lacks bright colors, I nodded off throughout, which only added to the sense that I slipped through some parallel dimension or underworld.

One more element that really stands out is Kathryn Hunter’s performance as the witchy weird sisters. She contorts herself into seemingly inhuman positions, which is a wise acting decision, considering that her characters are meant to be somewhere in between human and supernatural. I didn’t ask to see a huge disembodied toe stuck between someone else’s toes, but now I won’t be able to forget it. Nor will I be able to forget the shot of the one sister standing over a pool that reflects back the other two sisters. This is a striking Shakespearean adaptation, is what I’m saying.

The Tragedy of Macbeth is Recommended If You Like: Claustrophobia, Cruel fate, Maximum weirdness

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Usurpers