Mladen and Del review ‘A Christmas Chronicle 2’

Image courtesy of Netflix.

“The Christmas Chronicles 2” Starring Kurt Russell, Goldie Hawn, Darby Camp, Julian Dennison, Jazhir Bruno, Darlene Love, and others. Directed by Chris Columbus. 115 minutes. Rated PG. Netflix.

Mladen’s take

Kurt Russell as Dexter in “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes.” Charming and prescient. Russell as Jack Burton in “Big Trouble in Little China.” Funny and athletic. Russell as Snake Plissken in “Escape from New York.” Kick-ass awesome and honorable. Russell as MacReady in “The Thing.” Perfect and human. Russell as a demigod in the second “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Nicely two-faced. Russell as Santa Claus in “The Christmas Chronicles 2?” Yup, he pulled it off.

I’ll let Del, the artistic, detail-oriented plot summary know-it-all blowhard describe “The Christmas Chronicles 2” storyline below. But, it’s enough here to note that Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus (Goldie Hawn) do PG battle, with support from a couple of kids, to save Christmas and the soul of an elf gone bad.

“Chronicles 2” is a neat story with good enough acting by everyone, with one exception: Russell. He’s the standout in this film. And, I’ll be damned, if his singing – that’s right, singing – isn’t good, too.

You’ve probably registered by now that I consider Russell one of the world’s greatest actors. It’s possible that merely his presence in “Chronicles 2” is enough to make me put on rose-colored glasses before I review the film. Not so. It’s clear that Russell had enthusiasm for his role. It’s that enthusiasm that carries the film. Russell’s Santa Claus is what the former St. Nick ought to be, a tough guy with a big heart.

We meet Santa as he mushes his flying reindeer in low-level pursuit of the dastardly Yule cat, an intimidating creature with, as it turns out, a coward’s will. Santa is as adept at maneuvering his sleigh as Plissken a glider, MacReady a flamethrower, or the Guardian’s demigod a planet. Russell’s and Darlene Love’s vocals in “The Spirit of Christmas” is boosted by their addictive fervor. The uplifting song, backed by a troupe of dancers, rocks.

Be patient with Mrs. Claus. Hawn seems a bit, I don’t know, stiff, uncomfortable, somewhat slightly off when we’re introduced to her character, but she gets better as “Chronicles 2” moves along.

The principal children in “Chronicles 2,” Kate and Jack are portrayed adequately by their actors. Belsnickel, the wayward elf is OK, too. I didn’t consider any of them unlikeable or unsympathetic, but they weren’t all that likeable or sympathetic either.

By the way, it seems that you don’t have to watch the original “Chronicles” before watching “Chronicles 2” to enjoy the latter. There’s enough backstory in “Chronicles 2” to satisfy curiosity about “Chronicles 1.”

I don’t recommend that religionists, particularly soulless evangelical muthers and counter-progressive Catholics who support imbecile lame duck poser president Trump and his immoral, nonwhite people-hating administration, watch this film. The movie has “Christmas” in its title, but Christ plays no significant role. In some ways, “Chronicles 2” is a Santa origin story and it uses the star of Bethlehem to help carry the plot.

I have no urge to put “Christ” back in “Christmas” as will be displayed by yard signs and bumper stickers sure to go up in the next couple of weeks in my part of Florida. For me, Christmas is about presents, the company of family, and good food. For the “Chronicles 2,” Christmas is the time of year for all people everywhere to come together to share good will and express hope for a better future. Hear, hear … as long as I get presents.     

Russell gets an A+. “The Christmas Chronicles 2” is B-ish. “Elf” remains my favorite Christmas movie with real people and “Rudolph the Red-nose Reindeer” my favorite animated Christmas film.

Del, take it away. Try to avoid the pedantic, will you?

Del’s take

Hmphf. Mladen telling me not to be pedantic is like Hitler telling Stalin not to be mean.

It was my suggestion we review “The Christmas Chronicles 2,” folks. That’s right. I went out on a limb, after having once been stung by our deviation from the sci-fi/horror/action formula by reviewing “The Jane Austen Book Club,” aka “Plan 9 from Palo Alto.” I still have sympathy stomach cramps after that one. While “Christmas Chronicles 2” was nowhere near as bad, it is no “Reservoir Dogs.”

Because Mladen was too lazy to review the plot, I’ll fill you in:

Kate Pierce (Darby Camp) is now (because she also starred in the original “Christmas Chronicles” released in 2018) a typically entitled teenager who is pissed because her mother (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) dragged her and her brother, Teddy (Judah Lewis) to Cancun for the Christmas holidays along with new boyfriend Bob (Tyrese Gibson) and his son, Jack (Jahzir Bruno).

(Sheesh, is that enough parenthesis for you?)

Kate would rather be home for the holidays with her friends, the snow, and her angst. Mom moving on in life after Dad shuffled off this mortal coil was not part of Kate’s unified field theory and like every other teenager in every other movie in which a parent passes on, Kate wants to punish Mommy Dearest for allegedly “forgetting about Dad.”

She hatches an evil plan to catch an early flight back to the frozen wasteland of home, but things go off the rail when Belsnickel (Julian Dennison), an elf who has fallen from grace, snatches Kate and young Jack as part of his own evil plan. Via wormhole they’re transported to the North Pole and left in the cold for Santa (Kurt Russell) to rescue. Santa carries them through the protective shield surrounding Santa’s Village (Mrs. Claus’ Village?) and Belsnickel hitches a ride inside so that he may steal the Christmas star, a kind of lodestone for the Star of Bethlehem that powers the village and makes our capitalistic, consumer-driven Christmas hell possible.

What ensues is a series of mildly amusing vignettes barely held together with a gristle of plot. Suffice it to say that along the way snotty Kate will learn not to be such a selfish, moody brat. All the other trifling conflicts get wrapped up in a sparkly red bow. Spoiler? Well, no. These movies are as predictable as the depressing deficit in my checking account at the end of each month.

I won’t tell you “Christmas Chronicles 2” is a bad movie. It’s not. It’s stupid and irritating and has plot holes bigger than a collapsed Christmas star, but it’s not bad, not like “The Jane Austen Book Club.”

But it did irritate me. Every year, starting about mid-November, we’re inundated with so-called Christmas movies about those people … the ones with halogen teeth and taxidermed eyes who live in a Norman Rockwell vision of Christmas where the snow is virginal and the trees decorated in symmetrical splendor. Everything is “Stepford Wives” perfect, and the characters manage their tiny holiday peccadilloes with such gentle dexterity you wonder if they’ve ever stubbed a toe or broken a nail.

C’mon. We all know our teeth are yellowed, our eyes bloodshot, the snow will turn to muddy slush and the tree looks like it was decorated by a tweeker. But that’s OK because life is life. Let’s have a Christmas movie where Uncle Bob has to change his underwear because he made the mistake of trusting a fart.

It’s possible. I recommend “The Homecoming,” a 1971 movie starring Richard Thomas and Patricia Neal. It was the genesis of “The Waltons” TV series that aired for nine years starting in 1972. The story is about a Depression-era family in rural Virginia waiting for the father to come home on Christmas Eve during a blizzard. It accurately and effectively portrayed the desperate poverty of those years, and the simple yet heartfelt hopes and dreams of the people who endured that terrible time. It was way better than any frothy confection from The Hallmark Channel or, in this case, Netflix.

“Christmas Chronicles 2” is way too preachy and precious for my tastes. I watched it, I didn’t hate it, and Kurt Russell was awesome (the kid who played Jack was also awesome). But before watching a “Christmas Chronicles 3” I’d want to get my blood sugar levels checked.

People who enjoy the occasional sip of feel-good holiday movies will get their eggnog’s worth from “Christmas Chronicles 2.” Just don’t expect a shot of rum in that glass.

I grade it a B-.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of IFC Midnight.

“Hunter Hunter” Starring Devon Sawa, Camille Sullivan, Summer H. Howell, Nick Stahl. Directed by Shawn Linden. 93 minutes. Unrated. Netflix, HBO, Hulu, YouTube.

Spoiler alert: This review contains reveals that are meaningful to the climax.

Del’s take

Remember Devon Sawa?

In the 1990s he was a teen heartthrob, bowl cut and all, starring in movies like “Casper” and “Final Destination.” Today Sawa is all grown up, a husband, father, and author of a dementedly hilarious twitterfeed at @DevonESawa . He’s also the lead in today’s stream gem, “Hunter Hunter.”

Fair warning: “Hunter Hunter” is not for everyone. It is dark and bloody. One scene is an over-the-top gorefest. I don’t usually go for that sort of thing but I found myself watching “Hunter Hunter” for the story and acting. The story was thin but fairly compelling. The acting was top notch.

Sawa plays Mersault, who lives in a northern backwater with his tremulous wife, Anne (Camille Sullivan) and daughter Renee (Summer H. Howell). Mersault is stubbornly dedicated to their impoverished and primitive lifestyle, believing salvation lies just around the corner with the next animal trapped and the next varmint extinguished. Speaking of which, a rogue wolf has entered their realm and is poaching animals from the traps Mersault has strung throughout the forest. Without the pelts those animals provide his family will starve, reason enough for Mersault to stalk the wolf and Anne to want to relocate into town, where a real house awaits and Renee can attend school.

During his wanderings Mersault comes across a grisly scene – a dump site for a serial killer. Incredibly, he does not report his discovery to authorities but decides to hunt the new predator himself. Meanwhile, a broken-down car introduces Lou, a nobody who is found crawling through the woods, injured and bleeding. Anne brings him to the family cabin for recuperation. From there, disparate story threads begin to converge, with horrifying consequences for all involved.

I have gripes with director Linden’s handling of “Hunter Hunter.” To begin, Mersault’s backstory needs beefing up. Why does he cling to a lifestyle his wife seems to hate? How is he able to dictate their living conditions with little argument from Anne or Renee?

Also, I have a problem with viewpoint. The story is told through the Mersault character until it reaches a certain point, where the viewpoint shifts to Anne. This change telegraphs an important plot resolution. I have no problem with changing viewpoint characters in movies but if Linden had employed the technique throughout instead of only when it became necessary, he might not have given away the ending.

Speaking of that over-the-top scene … the movie could have gotten along just fine without it. I’m not a fan of terror through shock. Tension is a much better source. Linden is able to do that in his building of the conflict between Mersault and the wolf, especially when Renee becomes a piece on the chess board. But once the blood starts gushing, all I felt was disgust.

Sawa had remained a child star in my memory so it was great to see him as an adult. He was fully convincing as Mersault, as were the other actors in their roles, and I look forward to his future movies. The setting of “Hunter Hunter” was lush and verdant, the cold palpable. It helped me appreciate the struggle that was their life in the woods.

If overt brutality and gore are not for you then I won’t recommend “Hunter Hunter.” If not, give it a watch. Despite its flaws it’s an interesting movie that will remain top-of-mind for days.

I give it a B.

Mladen’s take

No, Del, I didn’t remember Devon Sawa. Could care less that he was a child star or that he has a twitterfeed. Nearly everybody has a twitterfeed because Twitter is open to nearly everybody, which leads to a planet-load of crap floating in cyberspace. Even Trump’s ban from twitter doesn’t keep the Twitterverse from ranting about the injustices committed against the one-term, poser president fascist dickhead. Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, whatever, should burn in hell.

And, Del, because you’re clearly disinclined to level with our dear readers, let me define for them what you mean by “over-the-top gorefest.”

Torture pornography. That’s where the subplots in “Hunter Hunter” converge. The bad guy, fully conscious, is vivisected by the broken mother. The only redeeming part of that prolonged encounter between him and her wielding the tools of skinning and de-organing animals was the song playing in the background. It might have “narcissist” in its title, but I’m not sure. The song was ominously mellow with a touch of psychosis. Loved it.

“Hunter Hunter” starts OK enough. Dad Mersault teaching his daughter Renee the ways of the boreal forest of Canada is neat. He’s an animal trapper and she’s a trapper trainee. The plot establishes quickly and efficiently that Mom Anne was sufficiently content with the 18th Century life her husband wanted to live when they were newlyweds or Renee was still young. But, now, Renee needs true schooling, the pelts are worth much less, and the few the family is producing are fewer because a wolf has been raiding the traps. Mersault wants to stay in the woods. Anne is eyeballing life in a town. Renee is caught between. Understood.

“Hunter Hunter” then starts to degenerate. The first hint of the trouble on the way is Anne starting to worry that the wolf is directly a threat to them, as in it wants to eat the family. Any seasoned outdoorsman or environmentalist knows wolves are no threat to people. So, “Hunter Hunter” uses the cheap ploy of making the trap-raiding wolf the wolf of the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood to build tension and allow misdirection. Didn’t buy it.    

Then, as Del notes, “Incredibly, (Mersault) does not report his discovery to authorities but decides to hunt the new predator himself.” The discovery is, of course, the cache of female corpses left by a serial killer and rapist. What the hell? Yes, Mersault is a man’s man. He knows the woods. He can trap animals, but is the skill of trapping animals applicable to the skill of hunting and capturing a demented human being? And, by the way, I assume murder is against the law even in backwoods Canada. Wasn’t Mersault obligated to call a Mountie?

As the story unfolds, Marsault becomes the hunted, the hunter of Mersault continues to hunt, but then he becomes the hunted. Maybe the film should’ve been called “Hunter Hunter Hunter.”

The film has wonderful cinematography. The north woods are breathtaking. I agree with Del, the acting is good. There’s a couple of nice-touch quick glimpses of something amiss. None of the above, however, offsets what “Hunter Hunter” transforms into during the last, oh, 5 minutes of its run. “Hunter Hunter” is a C and that’s generous.  

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of KFC/Lifetime.

“A Recipe for Seduction” Starring Mario Lopez, Justene Alpert, Chad Doreck, Emily Lemos, Martin Morrow and Tessa Munro. Directed by Eric Eckelman, Armand Prisco and Natalie Prisco. 15 minutes. Rated TV-PG. Lifetime.

Del’s take

Wow, that was the longest TV commercial I’ve ever seen, longer than the wait time for a 20-piece bucket at the KFC drive-thru.

Yeah, I know Lifetime is pitching “A Recipe for Seduction” as a “mini-movie” but c’mon. They know and you know and I know it’s really just an ad for Kentucky Fried Chicken. Hell, I’m picturing the $5 lunch special as I write this and it’s not even second breakfast.

“Recipe” kind of offends me because it represents the further contamination of an art form for the pedestrian enrichment of a giant corporation. It is to movie-making what Donald Trump was to the presidency – one giant, polluted fuckup that left us all with spiritually clogged arteries.

On the other, I don’t think anybody is taking things too seriously, especially the folks at KFC and Lifetime. “Recipe” makes no effort not to laugh at itself and because of that I can’t be too offended. Mladen can, but I can’t.

The plot, if you can call it that, goes as follows: Young Jessica (Justene Alpert) is being set up to marry the obnoxiously wealthy Billy Garibaldi III (Chad Doreck) by Jessica’s evil mother Bunny (Tessa Munro). It’s a marriage that must happen if Jessica’s family is to remain solvent, but she doesn’t love Billy because he’s a chicken dick. Instead, the hot new chef, Harlan Sanders, looks finger-lickin’ good, and his secret recipe for fried chicken promises a level of wealth that might even keep Bunny in style if she could just stop being evil and consider the possibilities.

Will Jessica marry the rich goldfish or go with the chicken fingers? Will Bunny stop meddling in Jessica’s affairs and let love find its pecking order? And who was that hot guy Jessica’s gay pal Lee (Martin Morrow) went out with; anybody got his phone number?

The one thing I loved about “Recipe” is that it ended before I could actively start hating it – otherwise I would have choked on a chicken bone of bad acting, soapy melodrama and clichés that should have gone to roost centuries ago. I mean, the whole ad/movie/whatever is nothing more than a retelling of Cinderella, except Cinderella ends and “Recipe” doesn’t. That’s right. We might be talking sequel.

Which I’ll skip, by the way, because some things are better left to the digestive tract and “Recipe” is one of ’em.

Still, I won’t seriously criticize either Lifetime or KFC because “Recipe” is played mostly for sillies. Its primary mission is to get people talking about Kentucky Fried Chicken and in that respect it succeeds and then some.

As entertainment I’d give it a C-. As advertising it earns an A+.

And now I hand the conversational baton to Mladen for one of his rigid, doctrinaire rants. Somebody distract me with a two-piece box of extra crunchy please.

Mladen’s take

Del has 16 minutes to live. That’s how long it’ll take me to get to his house to bludgeon him to death with a KFC drumstick. Why must Del be sent to the Great Poultry Processing Plant in the Sky? Because he made me watch “A Recipe for Seduction.”

I chose 16 minutes, by the way, as Del’s remaining duration on Earth, because that is the runtime of “Recipe,” which should be subtitled, “Who the Hell Would Watch this Crap or Spend Money to Make It?”

Del summed the plot or, more accurately, the KFC sales pitch nicely. So, to drive the stake home, I’ll quote a few lines for your benefit. That should be enough to deter you from blowing time watching this used cooking oil of a feature.

Our heroine Jessica, after falling head-over-heels for the Colonel, confesses to her friend, “He tells me that he has a secret recipe that will change the world. I believe in him.”

Jessica’s rich cad of a boyfriend slanders the Colonel by calling him “crouton.” The Colonel responds courageously, “Don’t call me crouton.”

For a moment, I had hope for “Recipe.” It was foolish, my hope. I knew that my hope was foolish even before it bubbled to the surface and burst on the rocks of the advertisement’s G-rating. At one point, Jessica goes to take a shower. I was hoping the camera would follow her in. No luck.

OK. I just spent more than 16 minutes to write this review. That means I’ve wasted at least 32 minutes of my life on this Lifetime TV special. That stops now.

I can’t give “A Recipe for Seduction” a grade. That’s reserved for actual films. What I can do, is give Del a warning. Del, I’m stepping into my car now. See you in 16.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Netflix.

“The Midnight Sky” starring George Clooney, Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Caoilinn Springall, Kyle Chandler, Demian Bichir, Tiffany Boone, and others. Directed by George Clooney. Runtime 118 minutes. Rated PG-13. Netflix

Mladen’s take

Rank the essential components – acting, directing, score, cinematography, and script – of “The Midnight Sky” individually and the results vary from good to very good. Combine the essential components of this Netflix production and the result is mediocrity.

It’s not that “Midnight,” despite its Adam-and-Eve ending and a twist that turned out to be, what, a terminal-cancer-driven hallucination, is entirely disappointing. It’s that its subplots weren’t particularly absorbing. Nor were its way-too-many characters consistently worth caring about.

In “Midnight,” the year is 2049 (maybe that’s a nod to 2017’s “Blade Runner 2049”) and the jig is up for humanity. Actually, it’s the end for anything that breathes air as we know air today – mostly nitrogen, some oxygen, and a little bit of carbon dioxide, i.e. not enough to poison us. Before our planet’s atmosphere turned into a swirl of unbreathable toxic gases, mankind mounted an expedition to a newly discovered Jovian moon that could support complex life. The crew of the vessel was on its way home from a recon of moon K-23 when Mother Earth, reacting to our abuse of her, transformed into Serial Killer Earth. Augustine, portrayed by George Clooney, and accompanied by a young girl, has to make way for a weather station that likely has the capability to communicate with the spaceship returning to Earth. He wants to warn the crew that our planet is no longer habitable and offer a suggestion – return to Jupiter’s moon to re-plant our species on a pristine solar system body.

Why cosmologist Augustine feels he has to alert the crew of a spaceship built to probe a moon for signs it can support life that Earth is unsafe for them is beyond me. As the spaceship approached Earth, it was clearly visible to its crew that the planet’s atmosphere, now a green-yellow, had changed since they departed two years earlier. I’m no astronaut, but a discolored home world would have me saying something like, “Ensign, give me scans of the planet in UV and IR. What’s the spectroscopy saying about chemical composition of the atmosphere?” 

The spaceship has a crew of five, one of them Felicity Jones’s Sully, a pregnant communications specialist. As the spaceship’s sub-story unfolds through a course deviation, collisions with space rocks, and an assortment of personal anguish, one crew member dies, two decide to return to Earth the Stomper of Life via a lander, and two slingshot back toward K-23.

I predict Del will like this movie, giving it a B+. He’s like one of the dudes in “Midnight” who decides to go home, though home will kill you for sure. Del will strain to find the positive in “Midnight” like the movie’s Earth returners hoped to find family still alive. Don’t be fooled. “Midnight” ain’t that good.

The best you can expect from “Midnight” is a few bits of good storytelling backed by consistently good acting. The film’s score is sturdy, if not exceptional. It helps the tale by setting up moods. The visual effects in “Midnight” are very good. I enjoyed the cinematography the most when it conveyed the austere and stark blue whiteness of snow cover and ice pack in the North Pole. But, even that simple joy was harassed by an achy nagging at the back of my brain. As mentioned above, “Midnight” takes place in 2049. Ain’t no way there’ll be any ice pack or glaciers anywhere on Earth in 28 years. Want ice then? Place your glass beneath the ice dispenser on your refrigerator.

“The Midnight Sky” gets a C+ from me. Del, on the other hand, will likely nominate it for a best picture Oscar.

Del’s take

Merry Christmas, you old coot. Sounds like you’re sipping more of the “nog” than the “egg.”

You think I liked “The Midnight Sky”?

Piffle. Do I like any movie?

Folks may think I’m a serial hater but trust me, there are movies I adore – “Being There,” “Doctor Strangelove,” and “Die Hard” to name a few. “Midnight Sky” ain’t one of them.

Not to nerd out on all three of our readers but “Midnight” lost me at the opening narrative where we are informed mankind has discovered a “new moon” around the planet Jupiter, one that has the ability to support terrestrial life.

Oh, sweet Jesus, somebody hand me one of George Clooney’s barf bags.

To put it politely, that’s a preposterous crock of ca-ca. There is no more an undiscovered moon of Jupiter capable of supporting “The Property Brothers” than the Earth is flat, climate change ain’t happening and Donald Trump was an effective and cordial president.

(Yes, I did have to get my Trump bash in.)

With all the space probes we’ve sent to Jupiter – hell, we’ve got one there right now photographing everything from moons and lightning bolts to Jupiter getting out of the shower – the chances of a large moon escaping our carefully studied inspections are nil. Not almost nil. Totally, completely and incontrovertibly nil. Nil nil nil, as in where have you been the past 30 years and you’re an idiot for even suggesting such a stupid departure from reality.

Seriously, it isn’t written in stone that a movie’s science must be accurate. Obviously the science of “Star Wars” is so far off the mark it qualifies as fantasy, and let’s not talk about movies like “Godzilla” and “Transformers.” But if you, the moviemaker, present the science as a pillar of the film’s premise, then you must make sure it’s consistent – or at least plausible – with what we already know. Had the makers of “Midnight” consulted a single astronomy buff they could have adjusted their ca-ca premise.

OK, enough nerd stuff. I can see two of our readers are asleep. Suffice it to say the scientific implausibilities that I mentioned, along with those Mladen noticed even in his nogged-out state, pretty much ruined the movie for me.

The rest of “Midnight” is a depressing pastiche of tropes and science fiction clichés interspersed with scenes of George Clooney throwing up. Was anybody else grossed out by the vomit in his Unabomber beard? Funny, the ca-ca Hollywood thinks people want to see. As for Mladen’s “consistently good acting,” I’m sorry but what the hell was he smoking? Clooney’s narcoleptic performance failed to impress despite the bombastic promotionals. The only actor who showed the tiniest sign of life was Kyle Chandler, who uttered one laugh-out-loud line. The plot consisted of a series of contrived and impossible cliffhangers. The script seemed inspired by “A Recipe for Seduction” in terms of silliness and the movie as a whole struck me as Frankensteined from bits and pieces of “Gravity,” “Interstellar” and other mediocre SF films.

By the way, “We messed up” is not sufficient explanation for the end of the world.

What’s good about “The Midnight Sky”?

The special effects are pretty. Sound of crickets chirping. I can’t think of anything else.

What irritates me is “Midnight” could have been an excellent movie. The problems could have been fixed easily enough so that grouchy old bastards like Mladen and me could go back to grumping about our prostates. It’s just sloppiness and laziness, and as a storyteller myself it pisses me off.

I’ve recommended a lot of Netflix movies lately but if you miss this one you haven’t missed much. I give it a C-.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.