A strong cast almost saves this dysfunctional Christmas-themed low-gore horror-comedy movie that does manage a few scary moments and is based on an interesting European legend. In what is essentially “Gremlins” meets “Poltergeist” with a heavy helping of National Lampoon’s “Christmas Vacation,” a young boy at the cusp of disavowing Santa, unwittingly unleashes Santa’s ancient, darker, evil cousin, Krampus, who doesn’t just float down the chimney, he takes out the whole wall. Based on Austro-Bavarian Alpine Folklore, Krampus brings bad children punishment on Christmas day, so when stressed-out 10-year-old Max (Emajay Anthony) tears up a letter intended for Santa, and curses his family in the process, all Hell rolls into town along with a blizzard that cuts power and communications. Co-staring Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation, Step Brothers) as Max’s dad, Toni Collett (Little Miss Sunshine, United States of Tara) as Mom, along with the always funny David Koechner (Anchor Man, The Office) as a gun-toting Republican Randy Quaid-esq cousin Eddy character, the family tries its best to repel the evil. The film could have gone darker, been more serious, played on deep-seated fears and would have been much scarier, but instead the filmmakers opted for an oddly unsettling, but not terribly funny or frightening film (but WAY too scary for kids under 12) that only just sort of works.
In the Heart of the Sea ***1/2
Academy Award-winning Director Ron Howard adapted the Nathaniel Philbrook novel, “In the Heart of the Sea,” originally published in 2000, which tells the fascinating true story of the whaleship Essex and of how the legend of Moby Dick was born. Told in flashback style, Moby Dick author Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) interviews the aging lone survivor of the Essex, which was attacked and destroyed by an injured sperm whale in the South Pacific Ocean. The film’s greatest achievement is in portraying the hard life aboard a whaling ship, circa 1820, and of the class warfare between Nantucket Island whaling families, who were getting rich supplying the world with whale oil, and anyone else. That Moby Dick was loosely based on real events may come as surprise to many. The film’s score lacked a jaunty seafaring tone, which would have helped during the exciting Nantucket Sleigh Ride scenes, and New England setting. Staring Chris Hemsworth as First Mate Owen Chase, the film asks questions (with very little moralizing) about overfishing, whaling in general, survival at sea, and perhaps most interestingly about a whale being vengeful enough to ram and sink a ship, then follow its survivors and sink their lifeboats as well. Is the whale heartless? Maybe, or maybe not.
What do those stars mean?