Mladen and Del review ‘A Christmas Chronicle 2’
“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.
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?
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.
“Prospect” Starring Sophie Thatcher, Jay Duplass, Pedro Pascal and others. Directed by Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl. 100 minutes. Rated R. Netflix.
I’m always a little nervous when Mladen chooses the movie to be reviewed. There’s no telling what he’ll come up with – some giant thing crawling out of the muck to wreak havoc on mankind, most likely. But this time Mladen resisted his misanthropic tendencies to recommend a fine little science fiction movie called “Prospect,” and it’s one I think some of you will enjoy.
The plot is simple: A down on his luck prospector and his teenage daughter travel to an alien moon where a cache of valuable gemstone-like objects awaits. Recover those objects and they’ll be able to pay off their debts and lift themselves from the wretchedness of their current existence. But along the way they encounter a couple of rogues who want to jump their claim. And there’s a ticking clock – the freighter they arrived on will depart in a few days and this will be its final trip to the alien moon with its poisonous forests.
The viewpoint character is Cee (Sophie Thatcher), who loves her father but has grown weary of his ne’er-do-well ways and yearns for the life of a normal teenager. Her father Damon (Jay Duplass) is one quick get-rich scheme away from having to chase every other quick get-rich scheme that comes along. On the moon’s surface they encounter Ezra (Pedro Pascal), who in my opinion steals the show as the murderous but ultimately human claim-jumper, he of a dubious but malleable moral code.
What fascinates me about “Prospect” is the world Caldwell and Earl created to frame their story. Gone is the usual sleek, antiseptic science fictiony setting with its focus on technology, gleaming metal and blinking telltales. The world of “Prospect” is littered with garbage, tchotchkes, an alien alphabet and people who are as trashy and disposable as everything around them – in other words, a world very much like the one we live in.
The plot itself is thin, but it works. More money and bigger talent might have cluttered the story with unnecessary and distracting plot subordinates and crappy special effects, but “Prospect” plods along with relative efficiency, focusing on a single imperative: getting off this infernal moon. I say “plod” because at times the action does seem to wallow in needless internal conflict and naval-gazing. It isn’t a plot suitable for an action movie anyway, but the directors could have slain at least a few of their little darlings and moved things along more briskly, with no harm to the pacing and tone.
Another anachronistic artifact – Ezra’s peculiar diction, a strangely stilted form of speech, almost as if he were quoting from 19th century literature – struck me as distracting and superfluous. It reminded me of the dialogue in “Bone Tomahawk” and I still can’t figure out what purpose it served in supporting the character or story. In “Bone Tomahawk” it lent a weird, offbeat humor to the proceedings, but I doubt that was the intent here. Perhaps it was intended to boost the gain of the vaguely western theme? I dunno.
I loved the look and feel of “Prospect.” It was unique and different, and I have not encountered unique and different in a long, long time. The directors eschewed many of the special effects you might expect of a sci-fi flick and that works to the movie’s advantage, enhancing its grungy look and amplifying the dirt-track poverty of its three primary characters.
I think sci-fi fans will appreciate “Prospect’s” virtues but I’m not sure a general audience will feel the same. It enjoyed a brief theatrical release but from there went to video-on-demand.
I’m giving it a B+. Caldwell and Earl did a lot of things right in making this movie and I look forward to their future efforts.
But Mladen gets only a C+ for choosing it. He should have been choosing movies like this all along and not clinkers like “Ice Spiders.”
Del, though praising “Prospect,” has failed to adore this terrific piece of sci-fi sufficiently. B+ my ass. The sleeper film is an A top to bottom, left to right, and diagonally. “Prospect” is intimate sci-fi such as “Sputnik,” “Arrival,” or “Children of Men,” albeit less provocative intellectually.
There are nothing but exemplary performances in “Prospect.” Where Del chooses Pascal portraying Ezra as the show stealer, I give Thatcher’s Cee equal billing and praise.
Ezra is cunning, but abides the thief’s code of right and wrong as a “fringeling” prospecting and “digging” for gems created by living organisms. I wonder if the beasties, which eat limbs if improperly neutralized because accessing their “aurelac” requires sticking arms into their mouths, were modeled on oysters. Like oysters produce pearls from grains of ingested sand that irritate them, the whatevers on Green seem to create fist-sized aurelac the same way. Neat idea.
Ezra is a well-spoken rogue with boundaries. He has a chance to shoot Cee during a tumultuous encounter, but doesn’t. The way he demonstrates aversion to killing a child is wonderful. Nor did he sell her to god-fearing, convoluted-thinking, brazenly hypocritical religionists for a case full of neatly packed aurelac.
Cee’s reaction, measured in facial expression, when the religionists offer Ezra gems for the “girl” is compelling and authentic. It’s as though the youngster was able to imagine herself actually getting sold like property. Thatcher as Cee demonstrates uncanny acting again and again. From getting high chewing laced gum to a subtle hint of calculation and greed when Ezra offers her the prospect of collecting a fortune in aurelac to the way she urges him to keep moving with the wave of the rail gun in her hand, Thatcher is perfectly comfortable with her role as a resourceful teenager with still girlish interests. Why hasn’t she appeared in more movies? Give me more Pascal, while we’re at it. Caldwell and Earl get your asses in gear and make another movie as excellent as “Prospect.” Feel free to use Thatcher and Pascal again. They were a charismatic de facto father and daughter in “Prospect.” I imagine they could be, say, an effective mercenary duo on Earth or beyond fighting for Mankind’s survival. Maybe giving Thatcher the role of a queen reclaiming her kingdom from an alien race known as the Grist. Pascal could be a cyborg playing both sides until he witnesses the horror of Grist assimilating people.
Directors Caldwell and Earl understand that the guts of a movie is the story as captured by a good script. Visual effects can augment, never replace, solid writing and acting. In “Prospect,” the VFX are spot-on. A worn-down hi-tech world is assumed. The sound effects – the thunk of lander latches releasing, the rumble of thrusters, materials vibrating during re-entry, the clanking of “thrower” projectiles sent into hypervelocity motion – are very good, too. A soon-to-be-discontinued commuter line runs to the aurelac moon. Why discontinued? Probably because it’s no longer profitable now that the gem rush has come and gone. Who gives a shit about flora and fauna on Green, or studying it, when there ain’t no more money to be made? As the major points out in the less good, though still worth watching “Ad Astra,” humans are world eaters. Always will be.
“Prospect” is the whole works wrapped into a precise and efficient plot. The whole works includes the score. I paid attention to the soundtrack watching the movie and I listened to the soundtrack as its own medium. It’s very, very good. Have to hand it to composer Daniel L.K. Caldwell. He chose the correct orchestra and boys choir to immerse me in the moodiness of the story.
Yup, this film will be added to my Blu-ray collection. It’s that good.
Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.
“Peppermint” Starring Jennifer Garner, John Ortiz, John Gallagher Jr., and others. Directed by Pierre Morel. 101 minutes. Rated R. Netflix.
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.
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.
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.
“Mindhunter” Starring Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, Hannah Gross and Anna Torv. Creator Joe Penhall. 10 one-hour episodes. Rated TV-MA. Netflix
Stephen King gave “Mindhunter” his seal of approval and Entertainment Weekly graded it at A-.
Me? I’m not so sure.
Season 1 of this Netflix original series features 10 one-hour episodes of fascinating detective work and nifty nostalgic music, cars and fashions from the late 1970s. It’s a good show; I’ll definitely check out Season 2. But is it a terrific show? That remains to be seen. In my opinion, it has a couple of problems that for now are keeping it from becoming the next “Breaking Bad.”
“Mindhunter” stars Jonathan Groff as rookie FBI agent Holden Ford, a callow young man who is new to the wiles of women and criminals. He yearns to get inside the brains of notorious killers, as he believes by questioning these men – and invariably they are men – he can find commonalities in their destructive behavior that may help predict who might be the next Charles Manson.
He is approached by fellow agent Bill Tench, an instructor who belongs to the bureau’s Behavorial Unit. Tench convinces Ford to join him in “road school,” a program by which a bureau operative visits police departments around the country, teaching investigators the latest in FBI criminal behavior theory.
Ford soon realizes his road school excursions allow him a unique opportunity – to visit nearby prisons warehousing notorious mass killers and interview them. He convinces Tench to go along and soon, the two are assembling a loose dataset of serial killer behavior.
Simultaneously, investigators with the police departments ask Tench and Ford’s help in solving local murders. Ford applies what he has learned from his insidious interview subjects and tries to solve the crimes with a skeptical and reluctant Tench in tow.
They are joined by a college professor (Torv) who tries to apply discipline to their information gathering techniques and collation. While all of this is being done under the presumptive purview of the agency, Tench and Ford’s boss back at Quantico, gruff Unit Chief Sheppard (Cotter Smith) in fact doesn’t know a damn thing about that’s happening. When he finds out he wants to pull the plug, but word gets out and grant money flows in, legitimizing Ford’s quest to hunt the minds of mass murderers.
Therein lies a new and dangerous problem. Can the wide-eyed, innocent Ford probe the depths of murderous insanity without becoming insane himself?
“Mindhunter” contains the DNA of both “Silence of the Lambs” and “The X-Files,” more the latter than former. Sure, they’re all about FBI agents solving mysteries. But it they all have the same look and feel, an institutional starched shirtiness if you will. Violence and gore are restrained, although the language is incredibly salty, including the C-word. And the things they talk about – whew! Suffice it to say this is not a show for children. Oh, and there’s a bit of sex, too. It seems young Mr. Ford is still working on his, shall we say, oral exams.
McCallany is sensational as the entrenched, dogmatic Tench. It is only when the camera focuses on his home life that he seems less than sure-footed, perhaps by design. Speaking of which, things are rocky at home, with an adopted child who shies away from him and won’t speak, to a wife contemplating divorce.
Ford’s girlfriend Debbie is smart, quick-witted, sardonically hilarious and played to perfection by Gross. Torv’s professor, Dr. Wendy Carr, is icily detached. She reveals only isolated glimpses of humanity – feeding an unseen cat in the laundry room of her apartment complex, or becoming enraged with Tench and snarling, “Fuck you, Bill.” If looks could kill, she would be a ninja assassin.
Then there’s Groff’s rendition of Ford. In the first few episodes he is portrayed as innocent and trusting. Surely this blank mold of a man could not emerge from the company of serial killers without somehow being shaped by them.
Suffice it to say by Episode 10 Ford has changed, and the transformation is dramatic. That’s one of the problems I have with “Mindhunter.” Ford’s evolution is hasty and to a large extent without foreshadowing. Along about Episode 7 I was asking myself, “What happened to him?”
And a nitpick if you will: Tench and Ford’s crime-solving abilities seem a tad suspect. In every case it is the local investigators who point them in the direction of the eventual suspect. Their role becomes one of tricking that person into confessing to the crime, which itself becomes a plot point and, I suppose, a device to symbolize the moral and ethical alchemy taking place within Ford.
Still, “Mindhunters” is a good series and well worth a watch. I expect its positive reception will result in a new season, and I’ll be interested to see where it goes.
One last kudo: Cameron Britton, who plays mass murderer Edmund Kemper, steals every scene he’s in. I could see a limited series constructed around him.
I grade “Mindhunter” a B.
Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.