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Krampus •1/2

Krampus_posterStarring: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner
Director: Michael Dougherty
Screenplay: Todd Casey, Michael Dougherty
Comedy/Horror/Fantasy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 98 minutes
Release Date: December 4, 2015


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(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Well, Greg, someone’s coming to town. And it’s not who you think.

They’ve put a kramp(us) in our style. Let’s recap…

We meet a somewhat typical American family living in the burbs: Tom (Adam Scott), Sarah (Toni Collette), and their kids Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) and Max (Emjay Anthony). Sarah’s sister’s family arrives and we are witness to plenty of tension and family dysfunction. Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell) is particularly difficult and reviled by most of the family. Max is ridiculed for wanting to follow family traditions, including the task of writing a letter to Santa. But Max writes the letter anyway.

Things continue to go sour in the household and Max tears up the letter and throws it into the night with a wish for a better family. Grandma “Omi” warns that Santa’s alter ego, the Krampus, will descend on families who don’t get along at Christmastime. Soon thereafter, all the power goes out in the neighborhood and daughter Beth decides she needs to brave the storm to see her boyfriend. She’s not gone long when a strange beast descends upon her and she hides under a car. Then, a strange toy explodes and Beth is no more.

Greg, Krampus is a strange movie that suffers from not knowing what it wants to be. If it is trying to be a horror movie, it fails because the premise, the characters, and the so-called scary scenes are neither realistic nor scary. If it is trying to be a comedy, it fails because the attempts at humor or satire fall flat. Krampus lacks a rudder and a compass. It drifts along, finding a way to fill two hours without producing a single memorable moment.

The primary hero of the story is probably poor Max, who deserves a better family and a better fate. One could argue that the family unit is the hero, with the entire family ensemble being terrorized by Krampus and his gang of misfit minions. Debating whether the hero is Max or his family is pointless, as no one in this movie really grows in any way. They just try to survive one Krampus attack after another. Perhaps at the end they’ve been humbled and will now treat each other better. Perhaps. By the end of the movie, frankly, we don’t really care.

Harsh words, Scott. I think Krampus seeks the same audience as 1984’s Gremlins. This is a dark Christmas comedy. It borrows heavily from horror concepts like the hidden villain and gross-out visuals. It could very well become a cult classic. Like many horror films, the characters are picked off one by one and the people who are the least likable are the most likely to be done in. While I do think you’re a bit hard on Krampus, Scott, I have to agree that it lacks a sensible direction.

It’s pretty clear to me Max is the hero of this story. It’s very much told from his point of view. He is the one who made the Christmas wish that he wanted a better family. And at the end of the story he gets his wish. It’s just that the family lives in fear of being demolished by the Krampus if they don’t behave. I’m reminded of the great Billy Mumy episode of The Twilight Zone called “It’s a Good Life” where everyone feared the little boy and behaved perfectly for fear of being wished into the corn field. Krampus works on that level and so it’s the family who are transformed, even though Max is the protagonist. It’s a less cathartic ending, but it makes sense given the concept.

The supporting characters are right out of the stock-character section of your local K-Mart. Grandma Omi plays the role of the exotic and mysterious prophet whom no one listens to until it is too late. Max’s cousins are garden variety bullies. Aunt Dorothy is such an abomination that no one would ever invite her over to their house, yet this family does just that. This movie is populated by caricatures, not characters.

Krampus himself should be interesting, or at least is potentially interesting, but this movie manages to portray Krampus as the dullest villain we’ve seen in the movies this year. We aren’t given any information about Krampus, his origins, or his mindset. Krampus just wants to torment the family and pick them off, one by one. Even his henchmen are uninteresting dolls who are supposed to be either scary or funny or some weird combination of the two. All I know is that I kept looking at my watch, waiting for this film to end.

Scott, I’m reminded of the hero/villain structure we presented in our book Reel Heroes & Villains. Max’s extended family represent an ensemble cast headed by Max’s parents. The Krampus is the evil mastermind and his followers are the henchmen – doing the dirty work.

I agree with you that we’ve seen all of these characters before. This movie was much more a cartoon or even a situation comedy rather than a Hollywood feature. Every character was straight out of the Hollywood trope handbook. Some of the actors were even well-known TV personalities from sitcoms gone by. There are no memorable characters here. Everyone just played the stereotype they were dealt.

Krampus is a forgettable film about Santa’s nasty doppleganger who is as evil as Santa is good. This is a gimmick film, with the gimmick being the anti-Santa. All the terrorizing that Krampus does to that unfortunate family is by-the-numbers and far from interesting. So we’re left with a gimmick, and not a good one at that. I can’t think of a reason to give Pus Cramp more than one single pathetic Reel out of 5.

There’s not much of a hero’s story to speak of, unless watching a family be terrorized by a dull anti-Santa constitutes a story. You’re right, Greg, that Max’s hurt feelings may now and forever be holding the family hostage each Christmas. Does this represent a hero’s transformation?  I don’t think so. As mentioned before, the family has certainly been humbled and it may now give Grandma the respect she deserves. But that’s hardly a transformation worth watching. Again I give a rating of 1 out of 5 in the hero category.

The supporting characters were flimsy stereotypes and as forgettable as last week’s meat loaf. Not a single character is the least bit memorable, unless you count one of the cars that broke down in the road. I do remember that car, as it had the good sense to check out of the movie early on.  No surprise here that I award this cast 1 cast rating point out of 5.

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Well, Scott, some of us like meatloaf. Krampus is not as imaginative or enjoyable as Gremlins, but I think it hits its mark. It was released in time for Christmas but I it may find a home as a Halloween treat as well. I don’t see much need to see this film again, but I liked it more than you did as I laughed at the many ways the director and writers found to kill off family members with Christmas joy. I give Krampus 2 out of 5 Reels.

The hero’s journey is muddied by the fact that it is Max who is the protagonist, but it is the extended family who learn the lessons. We’ve identified this pattern as the “catalytic” hero. In this case, Max is the catalyst for imparting a transformation in others. The problem is that it is the evil Krampus’s temper that teaches a lesson, not Max’s heroism. So, this is a pretty weak hero’s journey, after all. I give Max just 2 out of 5 Heroes.

As we both noted, the secondary characters are mere cookie-cutter shadows of trite Hollywood favorites. Although, I thought Grandma “Omi” was memorable – and Krista Stadler delivered an Oscar-worthy performance in an otherwise unremarkable film. I give the supporting cast just 2 Cast points out of 5.

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Furious 7 ••

Furious_7_posterStarring: Vin DieselPaul WalkerDwayne Johnson
Director: James Wan
Screenplay: Chris MorganGary Scott Thompson
Action/Crime/Thriller, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 137 minutes
Release Date: April 3, 2015


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Scott, it looks like the final installment in the Fast & Furious franchise.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

With this series earning literally billions at the box office, I’m sure we’ll see plenty of spin-offs of this series. That makes some people furious. Let’s recap.

We’re reminded that in Furious 6 the gang conquered Owen Shaw. In Furious 7 Owen’s brother Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) is out for revenge. He breaks into Hobbs’ (Dwayne Johnson) office and hospitalizes him. Shaw then turns his attention to Dom’s (Vin Diesel) crew and sends a bomb to his house. This alerts Dom to the fact that he and his “family” might be in danger. After a trip to Japan to claim Han’s body, Dom returns to LA and collides cars head-first with Shaw which causes Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) to show up but Shaw gets away.

Mr. Nobody tells Dom he will help him stop Shaw if Dom’s crew can prevent terrorist Mose Jakande (Djimon Hounsou) from obtaining God’s Eye, a computer program that can hack into any device and use face-recognition applications to find any person anywhere in the world. The rest of the movie consists of innumerable car chases and car stunts with the good guys (Dom and his peeps) prevailing over Jakande and his gang. Brian (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) want to start a family and the film ends with Dom waxing nostalgia about all his previous adventures with Brian.

Scott, Furious 7 is supposed the be the last in the Fast and Furious series. With the untimely death of Paul Walker, the production and release of the film was delayed. The remaining scenes with Walker were completed with his brothers as stand ins. Additionally, Dwayne Johnson was not available for the film as he was filming Hercules. So, they recruited Kurt Russell to play the lead cop role.

Within its genre, this was a pretty good film. The stunts were expertly performed and looked real. However, the plot was merely a series of empty scenes holding together amazing feats of vehicular gymnastics. The continued theme that Dom doesn’t have friends, he has family was over abundantly clear. In our book Reel Heroes: Volume 1 we classified such films as ensemble heroes. The question I have is whether it is a family ensemble or a military ensemble.

I’d say that what we have is an unusual military-family hybrid, Greg. For me Furious 7 is an odd movie. As you point out, the film was cobbled together around the mostly unavailable Dwayne Johnson and the premature demise of Paul Walker. We’re left with a strange arrangement of screen time for Johnson’s character and a reduced role for Walker’s character. It comes across as odd but for the most part we, the audience, aren’t terribly affected by it. The important thing, after all, is the car explosions.

If you’re a fan of this franchise, the ending of Furious 7 will tug at your heartstrings. The filmmakers here give Walker a nice sendoff. Vin Diesel does a commendable job carrying this film; he’s clearly the leader of this ensemble cast. But as this is the seventh installment, it’s apparent that none of the characters in this film are destined to change or transform in any meaningful way. I suppose an argument can be made that Vin Diesel softens up at the end when he realizes that Brian is leaving the group, and that the group is forever transformed now without Brian. But these transformations (if they did happen) are not critical to the plot of the movie, and in fact the plot itself is not critical to the main goal of the film, which is to destroy as many moving vehicles as possible.

The supporting cast includes Kurt Russell as “Mr. Nobody” – a mastermind for the forces of good. He’s supported by a horde of nameless/faceless soldier-types. Jason Statham is the villain character who is supported by a horde of nameless/faceless minions who are trying to steal the “God’s Eye.” With so many people in the ensemble cast, there isn’t much room for any other characters to come to the fore.

You’re right, Greg. I believe there may have been four sets of ensembles — two good guy ensembles and two bad guys ones. Except for Dom’s group, we don’t get to know the members of the ensembles; they are each led by a memorable, dominant character but consist of a sea of rather forgettable underlings. In truth, the supporting cast in these Furious movies are the cars. Vehiculophiles will love this movie, although if you love cars I don’t know how you can handle the total annihilation of so many innocent gleaming machines.

Furious 7 is the epitome of the car chase movie. If you like car chases, you’ll love this film. It’s not much on plot, but it is high on action. The film suffers from the intermittent absence of two of the main stars. I can’t say I enjoyed it, but I appreciate the quality of the work. I give Furious 7 2 out of 5 Reels.

The ensemble hero pattern is clear here. The group functions as a family with Dom in the father role. But it is also a military-like group with missions and gunplay. Despite the vacuous nature of the film, I liked this group. I give them 3 out of 5 Heroes.

There weren’t a lot of secondary characters here. The villain was a simple pure evil bad guy. We don’t know how he came to this vile place so he doesn’t have much dimension. Mr. Nobody is no better. He’s just a pure good guy with power from on high. Then there are minions on both sides. It’s not a complex group, so I give them just 1 out of 5 cast points.

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Greg, this type of movie is painful for me to watch. As you’ve intimated, the goal of the film is to provide audiences with as many fiery car chases and car stunts as possible. None of the stunts are believable and it gets tiresome watching people escape horrific falls and catastrophic collisions unharmed. The plot is so irrelevant that we barely notice the oddly small, almost cameo-like inclusion of The Rock and the diminished screen time of Paul Walker. I’ll give the film 2 Reels out of 5 only because Vin Diesel and Kurt Russell can be fun to watch.

There’s not much to say about the hero story. No one watches a Furious movie to sink their teeth into a good, juicy narrative structure. Audiences come to see chases, collisions, fireballs, and a high body count. The heads of the ensemble groups in this film all do a serviceable job in their roles and so I can give the heroic ensembles a rating as high as 2 Heroes out of 5.

There were plenty of supporting characters in this movie but except for the leaders of the ensemble groupings, these supporting characters are quite forgettable. The exception might be Hobbs (The Rock’s character) but Hobbs doesn’t hang around long enough to make much of an impact in this movie. I did admire the performances of Shaw and Mr. Nobody, and for that reason I’ll give a rating here of 2 out of 5.

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