Del reviews ‘Violent Night’

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.

“Violent Night” Starring David Harbour, John Leguizamo, Beverly D’Angelo, Alex Hassell, Alexis Louder and Leah Brady. Directed by Tommy Wirkola. 1 hour, 52 minutes. Rated R. Prime.

Del’s take

You were expecting the David Harbour action-comedy “Violent Night” to be “Die Hard” re-imagined? Think again. “Violent Night” is a strange synthesis of action, comedy and fantasy, as if Disney, The Hallmark Channel and John McClane had combined their energies to create a new telling of “The Night before Christmas,” one fortified with violence, gushy sentimentality and, of course, a stiff slug of eggnog.

“Violent Night” is the story of Santa Claus – yes, THE Santa Claus (David Harbour) – who finds himself bleary-eyed and half-crocked at a London bar on Christmas Eve, besotted with the spirit of Christmas cynicism. And why not? His job as deliverer of gifts to all the good boys and girls of the world no longer has relevance. Children these days, he rants to fellow bar patrons, are nothing more than greedy, bloodthirsty little capitalists who want more, more, and more while giving nothing in return, not even their belief in the jolly old elf.

Meanwhile, the uber-rich Lightstone family has gathered at the family mansion to go through the motions of celebrating Christmas. In reality the event is a chance for selfish daughter Alva (Evi Patterson), her actor boyfriend Morgan Steel (Cam Gigadet) and sulking teenage son Bert (Alexander Elliot) to suck up to hard-drinking, foul-mouthed matriarch Gertrude (Beverly D’Angelo). Son Jason (Alex Hassell), his estranged wife Linda (Alexis Louder) and their daughter Trudy (Leah Brady) linger in the background, the more civilized and less materialistic of the sibling groups. Jason’s priority is making his daughter’s Christmas wish come true – that he and ex-wife Linda get back together so the three of them can once again become a family.

As a hung-over Santa arrives at the family mansion (Do people this wealthy deserve gifts from Santa?) and stumbles about, tossing gifts under the tree and helping himself to expensive brandy, a band of terrorists led by a Mr. Scrooge (John Leguizamo) invades the premises, kills the staff and takes the Lightstone family hostage. Their goal is to make off with the $300 million in government contract dollars the Lightstone family business received for work they never did. The money is hidden in Gertrude’s safe, which is said to be impregnable.

Santa wants nothing to do with this drama and tries to sneak away, but his reindeer are spooked by the gunfire and bolt to parts unknown, stranding Santa. Then he is drawn into the conflict by an accidental encounter with a bad guy, and the mournful pleadings of young Trudy, who shows some evidence of grasping the true meaning of Christmas. That’s enough to transform Santa into a pissed-off fly in the ointment, to borrow an expression from John McClane. When that happens, bloody mayhem ensues.

The violence is jaw-dropping – perhaps “jaw-breaking” is a better description. In one scene, as Santa carries on a soulful conversation with Trudy over a walkie talkie, a recently dispatched bad guy’s face burns to the bone courtesy of the holiday lights he was strangled with. And Santa himself is not immune to having his nose busted, his lip split open and his abdomen gutted. If Santa’s suit wasn’t red enough when the movie opened, it is by the closing credits.

Harbour turns in a solid performance as the jaded, burned-out Santa, and Cam Gigadet is funny as the brainless action movie star Morgan Steel. But it’s difficult to pick out particular actor or role as good or bad, as the creative staff can’t seem to decide what kind of movie it should be. A manic, absurdist comedy? An action movie, in the tradition of “Die Hard” or “The Long Kiss Goodnight”? Or a holiday fantasy about the true meaning of Christmas. The writers, and director Wirkola, appear to want all those things, and in the attempt it becomes none of them.

Ultimately “Violent Night” amounts to nothing more than its title, a violent Yule season encounter, with a nod to Charles Dickens, and Dr. Seuss. It’s not a bad movie per se, but it’s not memorable and will never achieve the cult-like status of a “Die Hard” or “Home Alone.”

I grade “Violent Night” as a B-.

Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Netflix.

“Kate” Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Miku Patricia Martineau, Jun Kunimura, Woody Harrelson, Tadanobu Asano. Directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan

106 minutes. Rated R. Netflix.

Mladen’s take

My deep love for Mary Elizabeth Winstead remains unabated. She’s terrific in “Kate,” the new brawler film on Netflix. She’s been terrific for years. McClane’s daughter in “Live Free or Die Hard.” Terrific as a different Kate in “The Thing” prequel. Beyond superb in “10 Cloverfield Lane.” Should have been nominated for a Best Actress Oscar but the Academy dislikes sci-fi and horror. Assholes. Winstead was the only reason “Gemini Man” was tolerable. I bet she’s terrific in “Birds of Prey” as The Huntress.

Other critics have somewhat panned “Kate.” I attribute that to silly expectations. Should anyone believe a movie about an assassin will offer us anything fundamentally original or mind boggling? No. Hell, even the John Wick trilogy gets weaker as it progresses.

Let’s take this A- movie for what it is. Winstead showing us that Theron (“The Old Guard’) and Chastain (“Ava”) are OK as killers. Garner in “Peppermint” gives Winstead a better run for her money. Blunt in “The Edge of Tomorrow” better still.


Winstead is plausible physically as a trigger puller and martial arts master. Her action scenes in “Kate” are executed adroitly and confidently, lacking what I call “girl lag.” You know, that slight femininity that makes it look like a punch is thrown with hesitation or accompanied by circumspection. There also might be a pinch of awkwardness. It’s like the difference between a guy’s handwriting – generally angular, sloppy, careless, unreadable – and a gal’s – generally flowing, clean, loopy, soft.

By now, Del is, like, where the fuck is the summary, Mladen?

Here’s the summary. Kate is an orphan befriended and trained by Varrick (Woody Harrelson) to kill people. Bad people, which, of course, makes Kate a White Hat assassin. Now an adult with a string of wins, Kate is tasked with a hit. The target is the second-in-command of a powerful Yakuza clan. The top lieutenant is also the brother of clan boss Kijima (played by Jun Kunimura, who I also adore because he’s in a goodly number of Godzilla films, including “Shin Godzilla”).

The hit is a success, sort of. Kate is ordered to take out Sato (Koji Nishiyama), though he’s with his young daughter. Ani (portrayed by Miku Patricia Martineau) takes her father’s blood spray in the face as the first bullet nudges aside neck and the second perforates both temples. Some months later, Kate is slipped Polonium 204. It’s a revenge killing ordered by who? No, not Putin. As her body deteriorates – there’s no antidote for acute radiation poisoning – Kate regains her humanity while first exploiting and then protecting a precocious Ani as she hunts for her killer. Don’t listen to Del when he tells you that Martineau steals the show. Watch Winstead in the public toilet of some Tokyo back alley act human, though her skin is bruising, has sores, and hemorrhages. In fact, always pay attention to Winstead’s face. It expresses as much as the words she speaks. Love it to no end.

The car chase in the film is hokey but the rest of the action blisters. Knife fights. Gun fights. Pure hand-to-hand. Lots of blood. Lot of cussing. Everything I want in an action thriller that has no purpose other than to entertain and make you say every now and then, “No way” or “Damn, girl” while cringing with delight from the protruding blade pushed through a nasal septum.

The “Kate” score fits with the bright lights of a big Japanese city. The soundtrack is a bunch of wonderful Japanese technopopelectronicapunk.

Well done, Mary Elizabeth, if I may call you by your first name. Just make sure you don’t end up pigeon-holed as an action star. Your acting chops are Amy Adams-like. Do drama. Do cerebral sci-fi. Go experimental. It’s only a matter of time before the gold statuette is in your hands.

Del’s take

Easy there, Tiger. You keep swingin’ that libido like a baseball bat and you’re gonna put somebody’s eye out.

Mladen is talking about two separate issues – “Kate,” the movie, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the actor. OK, let’s do that.

Up first: Winstead.

I’ve seen several of her movies but her role in “Kate” is the first to leave an impression. I wonder why? I’ve decided it’s because she’s superb as an assassin. She has a watchability I can’t wrap my head around. I mean, she’s undeniably beautiful, with a uniquely expressive face. But there’s more to it than mere beauty. She brings a swagger to the role that other actors – Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Garner, for instance – fail to muster. She’s a much better Ripley than Katherine Waterston and that’s what we’re talking about, isn’t it? Ellen Ripley. “Aliens.” The “Get away from her you bitch!” role that set the bar for badassery among lady action figures. When the tank tops come out and the hair comes off, you know the shell casings are about to fly.

Winstead approaches her character with an understated and off-kilter confidence that was hobbled by a lame script, which always seemed to veer into the predictable just when you thought the movie was about to show you something new. That’s a shame because I think with better material Winstead could have gone toe to toe with Sigourney Weaver. Instead, we are given only moments of brilliance.

Another fine performance is delivered by – yes, Mladen – Miku Patricia Martineau, who excels as snotty Ani, a girl for whom life is nothing more than a sad simulation of her online reality, given meaning only through selfies, drama and Kate’s Terminator-like determination to complete her mission of vengeance. Ani is only a small planet orbiting Kate’s star but she revels in the baking heat when Kate goes nova.

One more comment about the acting and I’ll move along. Woody Harrelson plays Kate’s mentor and overseer, a kind of Charlie to her Angel, and I can’t decide if I hated him or the role. Harrelson played it with a loopy fatigue you see from Bruce Willis these days, but the role itself seemed poorly defined and a little too muted for its eventual octane rating.

That can be our segue into Mladen’s other second issue – the movie itself.

Is it entertaining? Absolutely. Is it original. Absolutely not. In fact, it seemed Frankensteined from just about every other recent action movie. What you get is a gumbo of clichés and soupy dialogue.

Not only that but all the characters in this rogues gallery are unlikeable, including Kate herself, the loveable assassin with a conscience. It was like watching high-decibel anti-vaxxers die of COVID-19. There’s a karmic justice at work here, yes, but the human being in you cringes as you see that metaphysical balancing go about its ugly business.

And the movie is a non-stop bloodbath. Between Kate’s wrecking ball tour of Tokyo’s Yakuza underworld to the toll on her body taken by the polonium 204, you will either avert your eyes or stop the movie and excuse yourself to the restroom.

If you’re a fan of action movies and especially those that feature a female protagonist, you’ll love “Kate.” It’s a brawl all right, with lots of firepower, graphic violence and gore. Beware of the treadworn plot and thin broth of dialogue.

I grade it a low B.

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

Image courtesy of STX Films.

“Peppermint” Starring Jennifer Garner, John Ortiz, John Gallagher Jr., and others. Directed by Pierre Morel. 101 minutes. Rated R. Netflix.

Mladen’s take

Badass beauty Charlize Theron, a.k.a. Aeon Flux, Imperator Furiosa, Lorraine Broughton, etc., has serious competition. Who? Badass Beauty Jennifer Garner as Riley North in the pretty good Netflix flick “Peppermint.”

“Peppermint” has its weaknesses. Among those are its cliché good-guy/gal-seeks-rightful-revenge plot, a bit of maudlin nostalgia, the not infrequent appearances of the apparition of a murdered daughter, woke commentary on poverty, and the origin of the movie’s title. I’m sure even curmudgeonly Del, who, paradoxically, wants humanity in his movies, will agree with me on that. However, none of the above comes close to diminishing Garner’s exquisite performance as a mother pursuing justice very, very violently and the neat double-cross about two-thirds into the exactly correct runtime for this film.

I urge patience when you start watching this movie. The first third or so of the movie is dedicated to establishing the bad guys, a corrupt justice system, and the power and allure of money. The really good stuff starts with North’s takedown of a drunkard father in a convenience store. Loved it and the moral. It’s here that we get our first glimpse of the glib, witty, and rage-infused North. Garner delivers her lines convincingly. She metes righteousness in correct proportions. The shitty daddy is merely threatened with a 9 mm pistol stuck in his mouth. The drug-dealing gangbangers get the opportunity to meet bullets and shotgun pellets up close and personal. In between, North manages to avenge the slight of coquettish rich lady. The insult was delivered when North’s husband and daughter were still alive. North has a good memory, along with a body and temperament to take and deliver punishment.

Yes, “Peppermint” has its doses of bodies absorbing stunning injuries and the obligatory self-repairs of deep lacerations or punctures. I understand and sympathize with the troupe. I don’t know. Maybe from here on I should just rationalize moviedom abuse of the body and moviedom’s interpretation of how much abuse a body can absorb as the consequence of surging adrenaline. If you’re running with a dozen bullet holes through you or fighting with your guts spilling onto the sidewalk, it’s simply a matter of fact that your body hasn’t yet recognized that it’s dying. Hell, I don’t know why people are making such a fuss about legalizing recreational use of marijuana or other drugs countrywide. Give me synthetic adrenaline, damn it.

So, forget about Garner as “Elektra.” That’s polluted water, caused by the imbecile Trump and his administration of fools, under the bridge. “Peppermint” is Garner’s re-introduction as an action star. And, it works.

I was happy to see John Gallagher Jr. as Detective Stan Carmichael in “Peppermint.” You may remember Gallagher for his excellent portrayal of Emmet in the very good “10 Cloverfield Lane.” Gallagher’s Carmichael is a bit dopey, somewhat a slob, but likeable. He serves nicely as part of the narrative that explains Riley’s metamorphosis, while playing an important role in the story, as well. 

Finally, there’s nothing special about the score for “Peppermint.” I interpret it as techno-poppy and raucous, but it failed to make an impression. Fortunately, neither did the score distract or diminish the film.

“Peppermint” gets a B. Garner gets a strident A. That would’ve been an A+ had she not balked. See the movie and you’ll know what I mean. There’s no way you or Del will disagree.

Del’s take

As of this writing “Peppermint” is “No. 9 in the U.S.,” according to Netflix. I tip my hat to the streaming giant. Americans do love their lists, and a list of who’s watching what on Netflix is sure to fire up page views for the lesser lights among its offerings.

Except it’s not really a “top 10 on Netflix” list. It’s a “top 10 on Netflix that are relevant to you” list, which means it’s pointless as a barometer of popularity. Yup. The algogremlin strikes again.

And here I was thinking “Peppermint” was a top 10 movie in the whole U.S. of A. despite its paltry $53 million box office take and 12 percent Rotten Tomatoes score. Why? Why is a 2-year-old movie suddenly popular on Netflix?

Turns out it isn’t.

I think Mladen has damaged his brain with all the “Ice Spiders” and “Snow Sharks” garbage he watches. On the luminosity scale “Peppermint” ranks somewhere between a searchlight and a miniature Christmas bulb. I lean toward the latter because truth be told, it’s little more than “Death Wish” retold without a trace of charm. No way should this movie be anything more than a time-killer when a body is waiting to be called into the doctor’s office for a hemorrhoidectomy.

Mladen also neglected to summarize the plot, which is this: Riley North sees her hubby and daughter gunned down by drug dealers because hubby (Jeff Hephner) refused to participate in a drug deal. The bad guys are caught, but the corrupt justice system lets them skate. North decides to take matters into her own hands.

Sound familiar?

Garner delivers a kickass performance, and for that I’m grateful. It made the movie for me. I do enjoy watching women like Charlize Theron and Rooney Mara mete justice to those who deserve a swift bust in the chops.

Also, there were some excellent visuals and fight sequences, particular the one in which the roles are reversed and it is the drug dealers’ bodies swinging from a bridge. I’d like to note Garner’s character was not one of those indestructible super-creatures who never gets stabbed, shot or beaten up. She suffers her share of damage, though her recovery time is a lot quicker than mine would be.

But everything else about “Peppermint” you’ve seen before – in my case over and over again. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I can watch the same movie, or iterations of such, many times as long as they’re well done. In this case the plot relied too heavily on suspension of disbelief and hand-of-God intervention to leave me with a favorable impression.

I referred Mladen to “Peppermint” because I know he likes brain splatter and infrastructure destruction, although I don’t recall seeing either in “Christmas Chronicles 2.” But should you watch “Peppermint”?

My answer would be a qualified “maybe.”

It’s a simple-minded yet decent action movie with a hero who does not dodge all the bullets. But the plot is hackneyed and everything works out a little too adroitly to be taken seriously. I would look at it as a cartoonish rendition of “Skyfall” or “The French Connection.”

Going into “Peppermint” with that attitude will make it a more entertaining film.

Garner’s performance is a solid B+, but overall the movie gets a C from me.

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