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

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

I Went to See ‘Encanto,’ and Well, Here’s What Happened

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Encanto (CREDIT:
Walt Disney Animation Studios/Screenshot)

Starring: Stephanie Beatriz, John Leguizamo, María Cecilia Botero, Diane Guerrero, Jessica Darrow, Angie Cepeda, Wilmer Valderrama, Carolina Gaitán

Directors: Jared Bush and Byron Howard

Running Time: 109 Minutes

Rating: PG

Release Date: November 24, 2021

When I went to see Encanto, I was all ready to stay awake and enjoy a movie, but then … I started nodding off. And it kept happening throughout most of the movie! (This is becoming a bit of a pattern for me when it comes to animated Thanksgiving Disney releases.) I thought I would be able to make it all the way through just fine! The showtime wasn’t that late, and it wasn’t a particularly tiring day! But movie theaters just always make me sleepy now that I’m the age that I am. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t fully unconscious for any prolonged stretches, but it still felt like I missed something, although my viewing companion assured me that I got the gist. I wish I had more to say about the actual content, but my drive for shuteye was undeniably the biggest force of this cinematic experience. Oh, well. I hope Stephanie Beatriz shows up in more movies soon enough.

Grade: Tres Maribels out of Cinco Madrigals