The Gift of Serving Yourself (Klaus, 2019)

Klaus_PosterJesper has lived a life of luxury and privilege. His father has gotten him into the prestigious academy he runs for mail service. In a last and desperate move to teach his son responsibility, he assigns Jesper to a remote island in the arctic circle.  He has one year to amass 6,000 letters from the island…except he arrives to discover the are two feuding sides and nobody uses the mail service.

He discovers an old toymaker and stumbles upon a plan to get letters generated by getting kids to write letters to Klaus asking for toys.

As they make their deliveries, the town starts to see change and a friendship develops between the two men.  Adding to the mix is the local school teacher, Alva. At first she has given up hope and the school is functioning as the local fish store. And as the children begin to change, so do their parents.

Klaus is a beautifully animated film with a pretty timeless story. A unique take on the myth of Santa Clause, the vocal performances are terrific (J.K. Simmon’s has a perfect gruffness that manages to move from mysterious to friendly as Klaus).

This is a wonderful film that can be enjoyed with a family in the holiday season.

Take a Stab At It (Knives Out, 2019)

Knives_Out_PosterFamous Crime novelist Walter Thrombey is found dead after his birthday party. At first, declared a suicide, famous detective Benoit Blanc arrives and sees possible suspects in every member of his family. Caught up in it all is his nurse Marta who may have the most to gain.

I cannot really say more…so I am just going to say this:


It is superbly written, directed and performed.  It is hilarious and a rewarding watch.  This was the most fun I had at the movies all year.

It’s Not Just a Jungle Out There (Jumanji: The Next Level, 2019)

Jumanji_Next_Level_PosterAlex, Martha, Fridge and Bethany have all moved forward in life, but college life has been disappointing for Alex and he has become distant from the others.

When everyone returns home for Christmas, Alex decides maybe what he really needs is to recapture the confidence he gained from the last time they went through Jumanji. When he never shows up for a planned breakfast, Fridge, Bethany and Martha find themselves forced to enter the game.  But due to damage to the console, the group find themselves lost in a new part of the game and in the wrong avatars (well, except Martha).  To make matters worse, the game has pulled in Spencer’s grandfather and his old business partner Milo.

The Next Level faced a challenge.  How to convincingly argue the kids would re-enter the game and how not to lose the magic of the interplay of the last film.  The previous film was one of those rare films that did not depend on Johnson basically being himself.  The cast was convincing and fun playing the roles of teens trapped in a video game.

Kasdan ups the ante with this one. Gillan, Black, Hart and Johnson all get to play multiple inhabitants of their avatars (with Hart and Johnson doing fun takes on Glover and Devito for much of the film).

This was a real fun follow up that manages to carry over the character growth of the last film while still capturing what made the previous so much fun. The cast is great and the action is fun.

Slash the Patriarchy (Black Christmas, 2019)

Black_Christmas_PosterWelcome to Christmas time at Hawthorne College. As people are getting ready to leave for break, sorority girls are disappearing. Riley is in her senior year and trying to still come to terms with being raped by a popular frat boy years earlier. She came forward and was not believed.  Her best friend Kris is a crusading feminist, leading the cause to get the literature Professor fired.  This has the girls a bit on the outs with the male class.  It is made all the worse when at a party, the girls call out Riley’s rapist publicly.

The second remake of the Bob Clark classic avoids the biggest mistakes of the previous remake by really not being a remake at all. This is a new take with a different type of killer.

Other than a sorority and a college setting, there is little in common with Bob Clark’s original or the previous remake.  And there are some real positives.

I really enjoyed the chemistry of the leads.  I was able to buy their friendships.  There are some great visuals taking full advantage of the college’s architecture and setting. And the adding of the gender politics angle is not as obtrusive as some one think (the irony being the folks most offended by the film are already echoing the villains).  The film is pretty basic feminist theory, the kind that rankles guys like Stefan Molyneux. So, yeah, if you are set off by stuff like “the patriarchy” and references to “rape culture”?  I suppose that you might struggle with this film.

The biggest flaw is that male characters never feel fleshed out enough to make sense beyond their stereotypical frat boys.  The only exceptions are the boyfriend of sorority girl Marty, Nate and Landon… a polite love interest for Riley.  They are, throughout the film portrayed and decent guys.  Then there is Cary Elwes’ Professor Gelson.  He is a character that could have been a great bit of misdirection.  He is, after all, soft spoken and seemingly gentle. But the film also makes it clear from the start his bone to pick is related to the “Conflict of the Sexes”. And oddly, he just seems like such an empty character.

Overall, this is an okay slasher film. And if you are going to make more Black Christmas films? Maybe an anthology franchise of horror stories set at Christmas is the way to go. This is not a classic, (and face it, will be flattened by Jumanji the Next Level and Frozen 2) but it is a serviceable horror film.

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